Lucrative linking might land a blow on Google down under

via Flickr © RaeAllen (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © RaeAllen (CC BY 2.0)

  • The Australian regulator is after Google for not being clear about privacy
  • It’s been mixing personal information and cookie data without permission
  • So Australia's regulator may have to turn those millions into billions to get noticed 

Now Google is in legal hot water in Australia where the regulator says it’s considering imposing a multi-million dollar fine. Why?

It’s the old Google problem. It just can’t help itself from bending the rules a smidge to gather extra data. Then, by the time the jurisdiction in question catches on and investigates, Google is in possession of a huge data stash from which it’s already made a pile of cash and may be up for a considerable fine.  Allegedly.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) accuses Google of misleading Australian customers as to the extent of its personal data gathering for targeted advertising. 

Way back in 2016 Google decided to combine the personal information in Google accounts with customers browsing activities on non-Google websites.  That added extra commercial power to Google’s elbow. 

The trouble was that Google didn’t explicitly explain this change to its customers or seek their permission in a meaningful way, claims the ACCC. 

Instead it relied on notifications which appeared to dangle the prospect of improved Google Services if the customer agreed to certain changes, no mention of ad placement. 

Google changed the wordage in its privacy policy which had previously stated that it undertook not to combine cookie data from its ad display business with users’ personal information. 

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.”  How nice of Google to improve their services just for customers without their asking!

Google, of course, is going to fight this endlessly as it usually does. A few million here and there will be like water off a duck’s back to it, that’s if it actually decides to stop appealing and pay up. 

In March last year we reported that fines from European regulators have become almost routine for Google, when it was handed an eye-watering 1.5bn penalty from the European Commission. About two years before, the EU fined Google 2.42 billion for abusing its dominant position in comparison shopping.  We calculated at that time that Google had racked up more than €8 billion in fines in less than three years! 

So good to see Australian commission chairman, Rod Sims, talking tough and apparently determined to see the fight through and strengthen common law in the process. According to Reuters, Sims said, “This is an action we are taking that others have not.” 

“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.”

Good luck. 

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.