France's data protection watchdog on Wednesday fined Google 150,000 euros ($205,000) -- the maximum possible -- for failing to comply with its privacy guidelines for personal data.
The fine, though tiny for a group that made $15 billion in one quarter last year, is the regulator's biggest ever and follows in the wake of other European nations cracking down on Google's increasingly controversial privacy polices.
The watchdog, the CNIL, also ordered the US Internet giant to publish a statement relating to its decision on its French homepage for at least 48 hours within the next eight days.
Google was informed of the decision on January 3, the CNIL said in a statement.
The changes make it easier for Google to collect and process data that could be used by advertisers to target individuals, thereby increasing the company's revenue potential.
The CNIL had asked Google to inform web users in France how it processes their personal data and to define exactly how long they can store the information.
It had also requested that the US giant obtain user permission before storing cookies on their computers, referring to files that track web surfing unbeknownst to the user.
Google has always maintained that its treatment of data gathered from users is in line with European law and has previously refused to address the specific French requirements directly.
In an email, Google France said it had done its best to explain its privacy policies to the CNIL and how they improved service for its users.
"We will study the decision and decide on the next steps to take," Google France added.
The issue of data protection has gathered steam worldwide following revelations by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, that the US had a vast, secret programme called PRISM to monitor Internet users.
Google has defended the changes it made on the grounds that they simplify and standardise its approach across its various services.
But critics argue that the policy, which offers no ability to opt out aside from refraining from signing into Google services, gives the operator of the world's largest search engine unprecedented ability to monitor its users' tastes and purchasing patterns.
Determined to confront the US giant, in late 2012 the national privacy regulators from all EU members ordered Google to comply with EU privacy norms in a concerted action.
Six countries -- France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands -- went a step further in April, actually declaring Google in violation of the law.
Last month, Spain's data protection watchdog ordered Google to pay a 900,000-euro fine for "serious violations" of users' privacy.