Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been involved in quite the staring contest with the European Union over a variety of issues, the most noteworthy being two – its anti-competitive approach to search results, and its violation of individual privacy with its various services in Europe. Privacy is a hug concern in many places around the world, and there is another example of it outside the European Union’s borders. But with the EU competition commissioner continuing to go before microphones to give the latest information and threats, is the case against Google Inc become more the boy who cried wolf, or will the EU finally step up after more than three years and come to some resolution in its current anti-trust investigation?
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), our health is none of your business
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has made quite a living for itself using its advertising platform with advertisers, which has allowed those partners to very specifically target their advertising toward certain consumers, creating high click-through rates and strong returns on investment for the advertisers and ultimately for Google Inc. However, as Google Inc collects information about consumers through their web behaviors (including scanning emails and tracking web-browsing histories), it also can collect information about an individual’s health. At least, that is one man in Canada is alleging, and it has drawn the attention of that country’s privacy commissioner.
The man had been browsing the web about remedies for sleep apnea, and then noticed that he was starting to see ads for sleep apnea devices and remedies. He filed a complaint to interim privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier, who spoke out this week saying that putting out these “behavioral ads” violates Canada law about health privacy.
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), for its part, says that it will upgrade its system by June 2014 to ensure better compliance, but says that while some advertisers in its ad network know the policy, they tend to violate it on their own.
For now, the privacy commissioner seems satisfied. We do not know if Bernier has any plans to audit the company in June to ensure the changes are made. We don’t know if Canada has a trust-but-verify policy.
A mighty wind is blowing …
… but Google inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is not paying much attention. Yes, the European Union’s competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia – who is known for getting before microphones and talk about nothing – is back in the press again, talking mor threats against Google Inc about its anti-competitive search engine, which Eu regulators claim favors Google properties and parners in results rather than listing strictly on relevance to search terms.
In the latest press conference, Almunia said that Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) must provide a new set of proposals in hopes of settling the antitrust case against it by spring, or he said the European Commission would go the “traditional route” and institute what could be a lengthy, drawn-out antitrust procedure. Already investigating Google since late 2010, the “traditional” route of antitrust in Europe (rather than the current settlement process as the EU has been doing with Google Inc all along), could take several more years, but if Google Inc is found to have violated antitrust regulations, the fines could be in the billions of dollars.
After three years, the “traditional” procedure could take years? Why do we get a feeling that Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) will call its bluff?