Europe vs. Google

The internet search giant is under fire from the governments of at least 11 European nations. Here, a quick guide to Google's problems across the Atlantic

The Google UK headquarters in London.
(Image credit: Corbis)

Google is in trouble with the German government after the company "inadvertently" collected private data from unsecured home wireless networks — a process known as "Wi-Fi sniffing" — while photographing neighborhoods for its Street View program. Google says it will delete the data, but refuses to hand it over to regulators. But Germany is only one of the many European countries in which Google is currently fighting legal and regulatory battles. Here's a list of the others:

Czech Republic

Data protection officials in the Eastern European country have also opened an investigation into Google's "Wi-Fi sniffing." If found guilty of a violation, the company could be fined up to $482,000.

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In 2008, the French luxury goods company Louis Vuitton sued over Google's use of its trademarked brand names in search advertising. Google's AdWords system allows other companies to use brand names — including Louis Vuitton — as keywords on their own sites. Luckily for Google, it won the case — an unfriendly decision would have hit the company's bottom line hard — though the French high court reserved the right to reverse the ruling in specific instances.


The southern Mediterranean country's officials stopped Google from collecting data for Street View last year amid concerns over its citizens' privacy. "Knowledge becomes evil if the aim be not virtuous," notes Chris Matyszczyk at CNet, quoting Plato.


The Dutch privacy commissioner signed a letter complaining about Google's privacy policies, particularly the "Buzz" service that e-mail users were signed up for without their consent. Privacy officials in Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Spain, and the United Kingdom also signed.


Google's problems in Italy are threefold. First, Italian regulators punished Google in February after a video appeared on YouTube showing a disabled boy being bullied. Courts ruled the company was responsible for the content on its servers, and convicted three Google executives for privacy violations — a ruling that the company is currently appealing. Secondly, regulators are examining a dispute with newspaper publishers over advertising revenue from Google News. Finally, not to be outdone by its neighbors, Italy has kicked up a fuss about "Wi-fi sniffing," too.


Another legal precedent could be set, this time in Sweden, if a 61-year-old man suing Google for allegedly claiming he is a pedophile wins his case. The small business owner says Google Sweden gives search results linking him to blogs portratying him as a pedophile. Although the man is only seeking 1 million kronor ($130,000), Google Sweden could be forced to take responsibility for everything it publishes if he wins.


Once again, it is Street View that proves a concern to internet regulators in Switzerland. The country's data protection commissioner said last November he would take Google to court, claiming Street View violates Swiss citizens' privacy. Google said it would "vigorously contest" the case.


When Google decided to name its e-mail service "Gmail" back in 2005, it failed to realize that another company, Independent International Investment Research, already owned the name in the U.K. Cue a five year battle for use of the Gmail name, with millions of U.K. users forced to use the more unwieldy "Googlemail" name and ending with a $250,000 payout for IIIR. Only this month were Googlemailers given the option of changing their address to Gmail.

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