A look at some of Google’s recent privacy battles in the European Union

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Google has been targeted once again by European consumer groups, this time over its account sign-up process. The Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC) alleges that Google uses “unclear, incomplete and misleading” language at every step of the registration process and also frames the more privacy-friendly options as missing out on advantages.

This is not the first time that Google has found itself locking horns with European regulators over privacy regulations. Here are some of the recent incidents when Google was targeted for its anti-privacy actions.

Personalised ads

In 2019, French data protection watchdog CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) fined Google 50 million euros for breaching the European Union’s online privacy rules. This was the biggest such penalty levied against a US tech company at the time. This was also the biggest fine that came after the European Union enacted its landmark General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The fine was imposed on Google because it allegedly lacked transparency and clarity in the way it informs users about its handling of personal data and failed to properly obtain their consent for personalised ads.

CNIL took the decision based on investigations after complaints from two non-governmental organisations, ‘None Of Your Business’ (noyb) and ‘La Quadrature du Net’ (LQDN). Google’s appeal was dismissed by France’s Conseil d’Etat, the top French court for administrative law, which also concluded that the company did not make it clear to Android users how it processes their personal information.

Dropping tracking cookies without consent

CNIL slapped Google with a 100 million euro fine in 2020 for dropping tracking cookies without appropriate user consent. According to CNIL, Google had deposited cookies on user devices without their express consent, thereby not complying with requirements under GDPR. The data protection watchdog also found that information about cookies provided to site visitors was inadequate.

It noted that a banner displayed by Google did not provide specific information about the tracking cookies. Google appealed the decision but the top French administrative court once again found the fine appropriate and proportional.

Cookie breaches, again

CNIL fined Google 150 million euros in January 2022 for making it difficult for internet users to refuse cookies. According to CNIL, even though Google provided a virtual button on Google.fr and YouTube to allow the immediate acceptance of cookies, there was no equivalent method to refuse them so easily. The authority said that Google had three months to comply with its orders or face an extra penalty payment of 100,000 euros a day. This also meant that Google had to provide French internet users simpler tools for refusing cookies, in order to guarantee their consent.

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