Jan 30, 2015 · 1 minute

Google has agreed to change its privacy policy after an investigation from the United Kingdom's privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office, decided the existing policy wasn't clear enough for consumers to understand.

The issue stems from the consolidation of around 70 privacy policies into a single policy in March 2012. In a statement, the ICO said this resulted in vague guidelines that didn't make it clear what data was being gathered, or how it would be used.

The updated terms have already led Google to pay fines in France and Spain of over $1 million, though as Reuters notes in its report on this settlement, they amounted to little more than pocket change for a global technology company that made $55.52 billion in 2013.

Steve Eckersley, the head of enforcement at the ICO, said in a statement that this was a preemptive attempt to protect consumers before any issues could arise:

Whilst our investigation concluded that this case hasn’t resulted in substantial damage and distress to consumers, it is still important for organisations to properly understand the impact of their actions and the requirement to comply with data protection law. Ensuring that personal data is processed fairly and transparently is a key requirement of the Act.
Google has committed to fixing the ICO's issues with its privacy policy by June 30, and it has agreed to make additional changes to the policy over the next two years. The ICO doesn't make it clear what exactly those extra changes are supposed to be.

In his statement, Eckersley also said this agreement is meant to lay the foundation for similar settlements with other technology companies facing the same problems:

This investigation has identified some important learning points not only for Google, but also for all organisations operating online, particularly when they seek to combine and use data across services. It is vital that there is clear and effective information available to enable users to understand the implications of their data being combined. The detailed agreement Google has signed setting out its commitments will ensure that.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]