Google to change privacy policy after investigation by U.K. data watchdog

Members Of Congress, Cindy McCain Discuss Child Sex Trafficking
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 08: An employee walks through the lobby of Google's Washington headquarters, January 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. Google held a news conference with Right4Girls and the McCain Insitute to discuss ways to combat and prevent child sex trafficking. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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(REUTERS) — Search engine Google has agreed to better inform users about how it handles their personal information after an investigation by Britain’s data protection regulator found its privacy policy was too vague.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said in a statement on Friday that it required Google to sign a “formal undertaking” that it would make the changes by June 30 and take further steps in the next two years.

As a result, Google (GOOG) will not be fined by the United Kingdom for its actions, in contrast to France and Spain where regulators imposed penalties in addition to asking for changes.

The company welcomed the regulator’s decision, saying it had agreed improvements to its privacy policy.

“We’re pleased that the ICO has decided to close its investigation,” a Google spokesman said.

The tussle between Google and Europe’s data protection regulators began after the company took a new approach in March 2012 to consolidate some 70 existing privacy policies into one.

It also began to pool data collected on individual users across its services, including YouTube, Gmail and its social network Google+, giving users no way to opt out.

Data protection regulators from 28 European countries, known as the Article 29 group, soon found that the approach did not comply with EU rules and gave Google a deadline to change it or face sanctions. That touched off a long period of back and forth between the company and the various national regulators.

Spain fined Google 900,000 euros ($1 million) over the privacy policy, and France 150,000 euros, small penalties relative to Google’s scale. Its annual revenue in 2013 was $55.52 billion.

Other countries are still weighing their responses. In December, Google submitted a “number of improvements” aimed at addressing the European regulators’ concerns, the ICO said. ($1 = 0.8804 euros)

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