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Google to set up a European tech hub to deal with data privacy

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, speaks during the company's 2017 Cloud Next event in San Francisco.
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Google will more than double its team of privacy experts in Germany as Europe looks to ramp up regulation of Big Tech and user data.

CEO Sundar Pichai announced in a blog post on Tuesday that Google would double the number of privacy engineers in Munich to more than 200 by the end of the year, adding that the team would work with Google's global network of privacy specialists to build products that would be used worldwide.

"It's no accident that we're building our privacy hub in the heart of Europe, and in a country that in many ways reflects how Europeans think about online safety, privacy and security," Pichai said.

He noted that many of the tech giant's products had been built in Munich, such as Google Account, where users can control their privacy settings in relation to Google products.

"This is a major milestone in our investments in Europe. Since 2007, we've grown in Munich to more than 750 people, hailing from more than 60 countries," Pichai added. "This year's expansion will take us beyond 1,000 employees for the first time, making the office a true global hub not only for privacy engineering, but for research and product development, as well."

Google also announced a 10 million euro ($11.24 million) fund to support non-profits, universities and other organizations working across Europe on a range of internet safety issues – from keeping young people safe online to addressing hate crimes.

The move comes as big tech companies such as Facebook face intensified scrutiny around the world, with Europe becoming a particularly challenging market for tech giants when it comes to increasing regulation.

Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in May 2018, gave users the legal entitlement to control how much of their information tech giants like Facebook, Apple and Google can store. Breaches of the rules could see companies fined up to 20 million euros or 4% of their global annual turnover.

Governments have also clamped down on internet firms when it comes to user safety.

In recent months, laws aimed at tackling harmful social media content have been passed and proposed in Australia and the EU. Meanwhile, British lawmakers have called for tech executives to be held personally liable if they fail to fulfil a duty of care to their users.

Elsewhere, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron are set to meet global digital ministers and tech CEOs on Wednesday, when they will ask attendees to sign the so-called "Christchurch Call" pledge. According to The New York Times, tech companies that sign to the agreement will agree to share data with authorities and each other to eradicate extremist online content, while countries who sign the non-binding agreement will pledge to pass laws aimed at tackling the issue.