European regulators did not explicitly call Google’s policy illegal but identified a range of shortcomings that they said could undermine user privacy and confidence in the company. The regulators made numerous recommendations that would allow Google to improve compliance. “As data protection regulators, we expect that Google takes the necessary steps to improve information and clarify the combination of data, and more generally ensure compliance with data protection laws and principles,” the letter said.
Google did not immediately announce any changes.
Tuesday’s action comes as regulators in the United States and Europe prepare for the possibility of major antitrust cases against the company. Competitors such as Apple, meanwhile, are pressing claims of patent violations against several makers of devices that run Google’s Android operating system.
Taken together, the proliferating legal issues amount to a threat to the growth of one of the world’s most successful companies, which this month passed Microsoft as the second-most highly valued technology company, behind only Apple. Google stock is up 30 percent since July but has faltered in recent days.
“It’s never had this much government scrutiny coming at them at the same time,” said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of the Web site Search Engine Land, which covers the search engine business. “They are big, and many people do worry about things that are getting bigger and seemingly unstoppable.”
Regulators worldwide have sharpened scrutiny of Google as the company has moved beyond its core search business and into electronic commerce, telecommunications, social media, online videos and more. A growing number of aggrieved competitors have complained to government officials, much as rivals to Microsoft did in the 1990s, setting up what proved to be an epic showdown between the U.S. government and the company.
That case, and a similar one in Europe, centered on allegations that Microsoft used the dominance of its operating system to benefit other products, such as its Internet Explorer browser. The antitrust allegations against Google carry an echo of that case; rivals accuse the company of using its dominance of the search market to help its moves into electronic commerce, travel and other businesses.