Google violated laws, Dutch watchdog says

A privacy watchdog said Thursday that Google has been breaking Dutch law on personal data protection since it introduced a new privacy policy last year.

Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the College for the Protection of Personal Data, said Google’s combining of data from different services, including visits to multiple Web sites, to tailor ads and personalize services such as YouTube “spins an invisible web of our personal information, without our permission, and that is outlawed.”

In a statement, the watchdog said Google “does not adequately inform users about the combining of their personal data from all these different services.” It added that consent, required by Dutch law, for the combining of personal data from different Google services “cannot be obtained by accepting general [privacy] terms of service.”

Google spokesman Al Verney said the company’s privacy policy “respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services.”

Kohnstamm’s organization said it has invited Google to a hearing, after which the watchdog will decide on possible enforcement action.

The Netherlands is one of six European nations investigating Google’s privacy policy. The others are France, Spain, Germany, Britain and Italy.

Spain’s Data Protection Agency said in June that it had initiated sanctions proceedings after initial investigations showed that Google Spain and Google Inc. may be committing six infractions of the country’s data protection law. It said the company could also face fines of up to $408,000.

— Associated Press

Britain to cut back aid for home lending

The Bank of England moved Thursday to head off the risk of a housing bubble in Britain, making a surprise announcement that it would put the brakes on a scheme launched last year to help boost mortgage lending.

The central bank said the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) would stop offering banks incentives for mortgage lending and instead be refocused on helping small firms borrow. The news caused shares in house-building firms to tumble.

Britain’s economy and its housing market have staged an unexpectedly strong turnaround since the FLS was launched by the central bank and the finance ministry in July 2012 in an effort to spur the long-delayed recovery by unblocking credit markets.

“Given the access to credit for households now, . . . it would no longer be appropriate or necessary for us to have our foot on the accelerator. It’s better to shift into neutral,” Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said.

Another much-criticized government program to aid the housing market, Help to Buy, remains in place.

British house prices have risen by almost 7 percent over the past 12 months, their fastest growth in more than three years, sparking concern about the risk of a bubble as well as rising living costs at a time of stagnant wages.

— Reuters

Pope names aide
to monitor reforms

Pope Francis on Thursday named his top assistant to look into the work of two commissions of inquiry he set up last summer to investigate the finances of the troubled Vatican bank and Holy See administration.

A Vatican statement said papal secretary Monsignor Alfred Xuereb will be Francis’s delegate, “keeping his eye on the committees and keeping him informed in collaboration with the secretariat of state on their working procedures and possible initiatives.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the aim was purely to smooth communication between the pope and the commissions as they intensify their work ahead of meetings between the pope and his eight cardinal advisers.

But the move appears to create a new filter between the commissions and the pope that could raise questions about their independence. Originally, these experts were supposed to report directly to the pope and present him with recommendations.

Thursday’s statement suggests the Maltese-born Xuereb and the Vatican’s powerful secretariat of state will be the pope’s main points of reference for the work of the independent commissions.

Francis first named a study committee for the Vatican bank in June to help clean up the scandal-marred institution, which has been the subject of money-laundering investigations by Italian prosecutors. He named another commission in July to look into the Holy See’s full financial picture to try to provide greater transparency and cut down on waste.

— Associated Press

DAX extends gains
as confidence rises

German stocks rose Thursday, extending a record for the DAX index, as Commerzbank led gains and data showed that economic confidence in the euro area rose more in November than economists had forecast.

Commerzbank climbed 2.1 percent after Morgan Stanley raised its rating on Germany’s second-biggest bank and increased its price estimate by 33 percent. Fresenius advanced after Commerzbank said the regulatory review of its purchase of hospitals from Rhoen-Klinikum won’t take long. Infineon Technologies rose 1.1 percent.

The DAX advanced 0.4 percent to 9387.37 at the close in Frankfurt, extending its gain this month to 3.9 percent. The equity benchmark has surged 23 percent this year as central banks around the world pledged to leave interest rates low for a prolonged period of time. The broader HDAX index increased 0.4 percent Thursday.

— Bloomberg News

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