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Google France forced to notify visitors of €150,000 privacy policy fine

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In France, Google's normally almost text-free homepage now bears a block of text telling visitors that it's been fined for violating national privacy laws. Google's 2012 privacy policy change led to harsh criticism by several European privacy watchdogs, and France's Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) determined last year that the company had failed to address privacy and data protection questions. In January, it levied a €150,000 (around $204,000) fine — the maximum allowed by law — and ordered Google to post a notice of the decision for 48 hours. The notification gives the amount and reason for the fine and a link to CNIL's decision, which Google is currently in the process of appealing.

In part because it's still in the appeal process, Google attempted to fight the order, which specified a large-text notice right below the front page's search buttons. "Google has always maintained that page in a virgin state," said attorney Patrice Spinosi. France's top administrative court, however, upheld the decision on Friday. Other companies have been required to post similar notices in Europe; Apple, for example, was required to tell visitors that it lost a UK lawsuit against Samsung but landed in hot water for excessive editorializing. CNIL looked for ways to multiply the fairly low maximum privacy violation fine, and this is a way to make sure deep-pocketed Google feels its effects.

France has been particularly pro-active on taking Google to task for privacy violations, but the company is also facing action in the UK, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Its controversial 2012 privacy policy let data be shared between different services like Search and YouTube, something that critics said effectively created invasive, unified user profiles that could not be opted out of. Along with privacy concerns, Google has clashed with European regulators over antitrust laws, recently reaching an agreement that will see it list search results from its competitors alongside recommendations from its own services and theoretically avoid a fine of up to $5 billion.