Google Misled Australians About Personal Data and Targeted Ads, ACCC Alleges

Google Misled Australians About Personal Data and Targeted Ads, ACCC Alleges
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Australia’s consumer watchdog, the ACCC, is taking Google to court over allegations it didn’t get explicit consent from Australian consumers to use their personal data in combination with their internet browsing habits in an expanded targeted advertising scheme.

The ACCC has announced it will take the tech giant to Federal Court over a move in 2016 that saw Google link a user’s identifiable information with how they interacted with non-Google sites that used Google technology — the ACCC has alleged consumers were not adequately informed about the change.

“Google significantly increased the scope of information it collected about consumers on a personally identifiable basis. This included potentially very sensitive and private information about their activities on third-party websites. It then used this information to serve up highly targeted advertisements without consumers’ express informed consent,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in a media release.

“We allege that Google did not obtain explicit consent from consumers to take this step.”

Instead, from June 2016 to December 2018, Google provided users with a short notification about changes made to how it collected data. The ACCC believes once a user selected the “I Agree” prompt, Google would then be able to collect and store far more information that was collected to a single user.

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While Google already tracked users and targeted ads on its Google-owned services — Google Search, Google Maps and YouTube, for example — the change it meant it could now track users’ activities on third-party sites and other apps not owned by Google.

“The use of this new combined information allowed Google to increase significantly the value of its advertising products, from which it generated much higher profits,” Sims said.

“The ACCC considers that consumers effectively pay for Google’s services with their data, so this change introduced by Google increased the ‘price’ of Google’s services, without consumers’ knowledge.”

Google Australia said it strongly disagreed with the ACCC’s allegations over its user consent.

“In June 2016, we updated our ads system and associated user controls to match the way people use Google products: across many different devices. The changes we made were optional and we asked users to consent via prominent and easy-to-understand notifications. If a user did not consent, their experience of our products and services remained unchanged,” a Google Australia spokesperson said in an email statement.

“We have cooperated with the ACCC’s investigation into this matter. We strongly disagree with their allegations and intend to defend our position.”

In October 2019, the ACCC launched proceedings against Google alleging it misled consumers over how it collected location data without a user’s proper consent. A hearing between the ACCC and Google on the location data usage is expected to go ahead in November 2020.

A court date has not yet been set for this case.