Google Misled Users Over Data Privacy, Says Australian Regulator

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Australia’s competition regulator has today accused Google of misleading users to get permission for use of their personal data for targeted advertising, reports Reuters.

In Australian Federal Court, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) accused Google of not explicitly getting consent or properly informing consumers of a 2016 move to combine personal information in Google accounts with browsing activities on non-Google websites. This allowed Google to link the browsing behavior of millions of users with their names and identities, providing it with “extreme market power.” As the change was “worth a lot of money to Google,” the commission alleges that it was “achieved through misleading behavior.”

Google argues that the change was optional and consumer consent was sought through prominent and easy-to-understand notifications. “If a user did not consent, their experience of our products and services remained unchanged,” a Google spokesperson commented, adding that the company fully intends to defend its actions.

In June 2016, Google changed the wording of its privacy policy to remove a statement that it would not combine cookies from its advertisement display business, DoubleClick, with users’ personal information. The new policy read, “Depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google services.”

The regulator believes that Google did not sufficiently inform Australian consumers about what it sought to do with their personal information, including internet activity on websites not related to Google itself. The case intends to clarify the common law on what providers in various jurisdictions could do, and is seeking a fine “in the millions”.

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