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Google fined by Spanish data watchdog over audacious privacy tweak

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Google has been fined a piddling €900,000 for three separate breaches of Spain's Data Protection Act.

The country's information watchdog (AEPD) said that Google had "impeded" the exercise of its citizens' rights, after the ad giant controversially revised its terms and conditions for netizens in March 2012 - despite a public outcry in Europe.

The audacious move led to a investigation from France's Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) - on behalf of the European Union's Article 29 Working Party - to determine whether Google had violated data laws.

In September, CNIL warned Google that it would face fines after failing to comply with the French data regulator's orders to make changes to its privacy policy.

The AEPD said in its ruling that, among other things, it had found that Google too often used "ambiguous expressions" in its Ts&Cs, leading to policy which was "indeterminate and unclear".

Google has claimed that it "respects" data protection law in the 28-member-state bloc. "We’ll be reading their report closely to determine next steps," a Google spokesman told The Register this morning.

Spain's sanctions - which relate to three different breaches with penalties of €300,000 each - are the first to be made public (PDF - in Spanish). More fines are expected to follow.

Late last month, the data watchdog in the Netherlands concluded that Google had broken national data protection law. The Dutch Data Protection Authority said at the time that Google had breached the country's rules because it had failed to adequately inform all its users in advance about the changes it was making to its service. It has not yet dished out any fines, however.

Data cops in the UK, Germany and Italy are mulling over enforcement actions against Google for the changes to its privacy policy, which jarred with some who complained that the strategy exposed users to having their info being more easily mined by admen.

Britain's Information Commissioner's Office - known for its lighter touch compared to its European counterparts when it comes to imposing fines - is yet to decide what action, if any, should be taken against Google.

A spokesman at the ICO told The Register this morning that the regulator's "investigation is still ongoing." ®

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