Google Misled Users Over Privacy Issues According To Regulator

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Australia's competition regulator has accused Alphabet’s Google of misleading consumers over data privacy issues. As reported by Reuters, the company misled users get permission for use of their personal data for targeted advertising.

Google is already having to testify in an antitrust hearing in Washington in the coming days so this could not have come at a worse time. The company also had to promise not to use FitBit data amidst EU concerns over its practices.

The Australian regulator is reportedly seeking a fine "in the millions." This is in the aim to establish a precedent and to deter others from similar behavior.

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Google could face a massive fine over data privacy issues

This all comes are more scrutiny than ever is being placed on data privacy and the behavior of big tech companies. US and European lawmakers are currently focusing on how to create laws to deal with how tech companies treat user data.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has accused Google of a range of different things. These include not explicitly getting consent or properly informing consumers of a change in 2016. This saw the company combine personal information in Google accounts with browsing activities on non-Google websites.

The commissioner, Rod Sims pointed out that this change was worth a lot of money to Google. The commission, therefore, alleges that the company achieved this through misleading behavior.

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What this change did was allow Google to link browsing behavior with their names and identities. This applied to millions of users and therefore gave them huge market power.

Sims said, "we consider Google misled Australian consumers about what it planned to do with large amounts of their personal information".

Google hit back at regulator accusation

Google, however, claims that users were informed and the change was optional to them. The company says it was an opt-in process through prominent and easy-to-understand notifications.

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"If a user did not consent, their experience of our products and services remained unchanged," a Google spokesman said.

In June 2016 Google did change the wording of its privacy policy. It dropped a statement that it would not combine data known as “cookies” from its advertisement display business with personal information. The regulator claims that Google made this change without making the privacy issues properly clear to its customers.

Sims and the ACCC are not shying away from the importance of their decision and accusation. He says, "this is an action we are taking that others have not". The regulator aims to set up a common law on what providers in various jurisdictions can do.

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This would also potentially have the result of seeking millions in damages. However, Sims did not specify an exact figure in this statement leaving it somewhat open.

However, this is a bold statement from the ACCC and Australia. They have taken decisive action where others have failed to. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming months with other regulators and authorities.