Australian competition watchdog sues Google for expanding privacy policy without user consent

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Australian regulator ACCC sues Google for boosing advertising income by redrawing privacy policy without users consent

Australia’s competition watchdog has sued Google and its parent Alphabet for boosting its ad revenues by misleading users. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says that Google did not take explicit consent from consumers when it expanded its use of personal data and privacy policy.

ACCC accuses Google of using this unsolicited expansion of personal data and privacy policy to display ads despite not being given explicit consent. ACCC is seeking a fine “in the millions” and aiming to establish a precedent.

In court documents, 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 meant this data about users’ non-Google online activity became linked to their names and other identifying information held by Google. Previously, this information had been kept separately from users’ Google accounts, meaning the data was not linked to an individual user,” the ACCC said.

“This change … was worth a lot of money to Google,” said commission chairman Rod Sims. “We allege they’ve achieved it through misleading behavior.”

The lawsuit says that Google expanded the scope of personal data and privacy policy which enabled it to link the browsing behavior of millions of consumers with their names and identities, providing it with extreme market power.  “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,” Sims said.

The lawsuit stems from the fact that Google expanded its privacy policy in 2016. The new privacy policy of 2016 dropped a statement that it would not combine data known as “cookies” from its advertisement display business, DoubleClick, with users’ personal information. Instead, 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 ACCC lawsuit states that Google used this very expansion of the policy to boost targeted advertising. At the same time, it did not explain to the users the scope of the new privacy policy. “This is an action we are taking that others have not,” said Sims. “We will keep taking action, as will agencies overseas, and it will shape how these platforms behave, to make sure that the Internet is a benefit to users, not a detriment,” he added.

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"The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had." Eric Schmidt

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