Google sued by Australian regulator for ‘misleading’ consumers

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on July 27, 2020 Published on July 27, 2020

ACCC alleges that the tech giant changed the wording on its privacy policy to obtain users’ data for use

Australia’s competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), has filed a federal lawsuit against Google for “misleading” consumers to obtain their data to use for other purposes, including its advertising business.

“The ACCC has launched Federal Court proceedings against Google LLC (Google), alleging Google misled Australian consumers to obtain their consent to expand the scope of personal information that Google could collect and combine about consumers’ internet activity, for use by Google, including for targeted advertising,” read an official press release.

“The ACCC alleges Google misled consumers when it failed to properly inform consumers, and did not gain their explicit informed consent, about its move in 2016 to start combining personal information in consumers’ Google accounts with information about those individuals’ activities on non-Google sites that used Google technology, formerly DoubleClick technology, to display ads,” it said.

Data use

The lawsuit focusses on changes to the wordings of Google’s privacy policy. It further alleges that the tech giant had misled the consumers by this change through the “I agree” notification.

“Before 28 June 2016, Google stated in its privacy policy that it ‘will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent.’” it said.

“On 28 June 2016, Google deleted this statement and inserted the following statement: ‘[d]epending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google,’” the lawsuit further read

Since the notification further stated that the company will be using this information “to make ads across the web more relevant” for users, the lawsuit alleged that this change enabled Google to collect more data on a user’s Internet activity, which it could then use in its advertising business.

Targeted ads

“We are taking this action because we consider Google misled Australian consumers about what it planned to do with large amounts of their personal information, including Internet activity on websites not connected to Google,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“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,” he said.

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

Google has been facing similar lawsuits in the US and Europe.

A lawsuit accusing the tech giant of illegally invading the privacy of millions of users by amassing data on their internet use from browsers set in “private mode” had been filed in US District Court in San Jose, California last month.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich in a series of tweets explained the circumstances under which the lawsuit was filed.

“We filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against Google for deceptive and unfair practices used to obtain users’ location data, which Google then exploits for its lucrative advertising business,” Brnovich had tweeted.

Google plans to defend its position in the ACCC lawsuit, according to media reports.

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Published on July 27, 2020
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