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Facebook, Google Targeted Among 19 Pan-EU Privacy Complaints

Stephanie Bodoni
The Google Inc. logo hangs illuminated at the company's exhibition stand at the Dmexco digital marketing conference in Cologne, Germany. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi

Google, Facebook Inc. and its apps WhatsApp and Instagram risk European Union privacy probes after being targeted among 19 cross-border complaints filed with regulators since tough new rules kicked in at the end of May.

The EU’s top privacy enforcer Andrea Jelinek, who’s leading the group of 28 national regulators, said she and her colleagues have already started looking into the complaints that were filed since May 25, when the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation took effect. The goal won’t be to immediately wield their new fining powers, she said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

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“The important message is that our first task is not to fine the companies, but to look if they are compliant,” she said Wednesday in the interview with Vonnie Quinn and Mark Barton. But, if companies “don’t match the provisions of the regulation, they could be fined.”

Facebook referred to its response last month when Austrian lawyer Max Schrems, a long-time foe, immediately filed complaints under the new rules accusing Google, Facebook and also WhatsApp and Instagram of forcing users to agree to new privacy policies.

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“We have prepared for the past 18 months to ensure we meet the requirements of the GDPR,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, said at the time. Facebook’s “work to improve people’s privacy doesn’t stop on May 25.”

Google parent Alphabet Inc. didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The pressure has been increasing on firms using or processing personal data of EU citizens in the run-up to May 25. Privacy regulators across Europe now enjoy the same powers to mete out fines of as much as 4 percent of worldwide annual sales for serious violations.

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Jelinek stressed that she and her colleagues coordinate probes each time with the authority in the country where a targeted company has its main European base, which in the case of Facebook would be Ireland.

Updates with Facebook response in fourth paragraph.

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Read Facebook, Google Targeted Among 19 Pan-EU Privacy Complaints on bloomberg.com