Technology giant Google is being taken to court for allegedly misleading consumers to give away a lot more personal information than they had expected.
Aside from tracking people’s online activity on its search engine and platforms, Google also monitors users’ internet activity on “non-Google” sites to boost its targeted advertising.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleges that Google users are prompted to click “I agree” to this notification, which led to it being sued:
“Some new features for your Google Account:
“We’ve introduced some optional features for your account, giving you more control over the data Google collects and how it’s used, while allowing Google to show you more relevant ads.
“The notification also stated:
“More information will be available in your Google Account making it easier for you to review and control”; and “Google will use this information to make ads across the web more relevant for you.”
This notification appeared for Google users from June 28, 2016 to (at least) December 2018.
To ‘agree’ or ‘not agree’, that is the question
The ACCC alleges that the “I agree” notification was misleading, because consumers, “could not have properly understood the changes Google was making nor how their data would be used” and therefore the consumers “did not” and “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,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.
“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.”
“The ACCC considers that consumers effectively pay for Google’s services with their data, so this change introduced by Google increased the ‘price’ of Google’s services, without consumers’ knowledge.”
Google said the company will defend the case as it “strongly disagrees” with the regulator’s claims.
“In June, 2016, we updated our ads system and associated user controls to match the way people use Google products: across many different devices,” Google’s spokesperson said.
“The changes we made were optional and we asked users to consent via prominent and easy-to-understand notifications.
“If a user did not consent, their experience of our products and services remained unchanged.
“We have cooperated with the ACCC’s investigation into this matter.”