Australian Regulator Sues Google for Misleading Users Over Data Privacy Policy

Google allegedly increased ad revenue by tricking users to consent to a privacy policy update in 2016 and gained access to browsing data on third party websites

The allegations against Google over breaching data privacy have been mounting in countries across the world. Now, Australian regulators are suing Alphabet (Google's parent company) for another set of similar data privacy violations.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleges that the U.S. based company misled millions of users in the country to get consent and personal information and collected their internet browsing data for targeted advertising. The lawsuit was filed in the Australian Federal Court on July 27.

"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 told media adding that the company also misled users regarding a change in their privacy policy.

Google allegedly tricked users in giving consent to tracking data in Australia Pixabay

In a privacy policy update in 2016, Google allegedly started combining personal information in the Google accounts and search activities on non-Google sites which used its services (formerly known as DoubleClick) for targeted advertisements. But Google failed to properly inform users about it. Hence, data related to users' non-Google search got linked to their names. The data was previously kept separate from Google accounts.

Prior to the policy update on June 28, 2016, Google promised not to "combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent" but it was removed.

Sims said that Google gained valuable, very sensitive and private information about users combining the Google accounts data and activities on third party websites. It helped the technology giant sell more targeted ads through its Ad Manager and Marketing Platform brands.

When users agreed to the privacy policy, they were misled as they failed to understand the changes Google was making. Thus, they could not give informed consent. "We believe that many consumers if given an informed choice, may have refused Google permission to combine and use such a wide array of their personal information for Google's own financial benefit," Sims said.

Google Privacy Policy
Google Privacy Policy
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Google changed its privacy policy on June 28, 2016 that allegedly misled users

Google has argued that all users had been informed about the changes in the privacy policy. "We strongly disagree with their allegations and intend to defend our position. If a user did not consent, their experience of our products and services remained unchanged," Google said in a statement.

Other Cases in Australia

In the land down under, Google has been embroiled in battles with the government. In April, the Australian Government asked Google and Facebook to share ad revenue with news outlets in the country, in an effort to rescue local media outlets. The Treasurer of Australia directed ACCC to create a mandatory code around that.

Last week, Google, Facebook and Twitter were named in a $300 billion lawsuit for banning cryptocurrency ads that harmed local legitimate Australian businesses that depended on blockchain.

Cases Around the World

However, it is not just Australia. Google is facing lawsuits around the world regarding privacy breach. In the U.S., the company was penalized with $22.5 million for privacy assurances to users of Apple's Safari browser.

Last month, Google was named in a $5 billion class-action lawsuit for tracking users even in incognito mode or private browsing sessions.

Data privacy
Google is facing lawsuits around the world for breach in data privacy policy Flickr

In Europe, Google was implicated after failing to justify keeping user data for two years. Google admitted that its privacy policy was vague and said that the company was doing everything to simplify it. But in a 2012 update, Google merged all the privacy policies, making it even more complicated for users to understand. Following that, European Union Data Protection Authorities assessed that the company failed to fulfill the legal requirements.

Since then, U.K., Spain, France, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Norway and several other European countries have opened legal cases against Google over data and privacy breach.

Apart from data privacy lawsuits, countries across the globe have launched investigations and lawsuits for its another product -- Android -- over advertisements and other applications. In India, Google was slapped with an anti-trust case for allegedly forcing mobile manufacturers to include Google applications in exchange for full-fledged Android version.