Google ordered to pay $43 million by Australian court

Search engine Google fines $43 million by Australian court for tracking Android users’ location data for two years in 2017 and 2018

Alphabet’s Google is in trouble again in Australia and has been fined millions of dollars for misleading users.

Australian competition watchdog, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced that a federal court has ordered Google to pay A$60 million ($42.7 million) in fines.

It alleges that between January 2017 and December 2018, Google made misleading statements to consumers about the collection and use of their personal location data on Android phones.

Location data

This isn’t the first time Google has been accused of misleading customers down under.

For example, in 2012, the Australian Federal Court ruled that Google was responsible for “misleading and deceptive” advertisements that appeared on its web pages as part of search results.

Google was found guilty of four violations of the Australian Trade Practices Act, which resulted in no fine, but the court ordered the company to set up a compliance program to ensure paid advertising on its search engine reaches consumers in the future. would not mislead.

And now the ACCC pointed out that in this latest case, the court had previously found that Google had violated Australian consumer law by declaring to some Android users that the setting titled “Location History” was the only Google account setting that affected when asked whether Google stored and used personally identifiable information about their location.

The regulator said that, in fact, another Google account setting titled “Web & App Activity” also allowed Google to collect, store, and use personally identifiable location data when enabled, and that setting was the default. switched on.

“This substantial fine imposed by the Court today sends a strong message to digital platforms and other companies, large and small, that they must not mislead consumers about how their data is collected and used,” said ACCC President Gina Cass-Gottlieb. .

“Google, one of the world’s largest companies, was able to store the location data collected through the ‘Web & App Activity’ setting, and that saved data could be used by Google to target ads to some consumers. even if those consumers disable “Location History,” she said.

“Personal location data is sensitive and important to some consumers, and some users who have seen the images may have made different choices about collecting, storing and using their location data if the misleading images had not been created by Google,” Cass said. – said Gottlieb.

The ACCC’s best estimate, based on available data, is that the users of 1.3 million Google accounts in Australia may have viewed a screen that the court found to have violated Australian consumer law.

Already sorted

Google apparently took corrective action and addressed all infringing behavior by December 20, 2018, meaning users were no longer shown the deceptive screens.

“Companies need to be transparent about the types of data they collect and how the data is collected and can be used so that consumers can make informed decisions about who they share that data with,” Cass-Gottlieb said.

“This is the first result of public enforcement to emerge from the ACCC inquiry into digital platforms,” she added.

The court also issued injunctions requiring Google to ensure that its policies commit to comply with the rules and train certain employees about Australian consumer law, as well as contribute to the ACCC’s costs.

In a statement by email, Google told Reuters it had settled the matter, adding that location information is easy to manage and understand.

Previous collision

Google (and Facebook mother Meta) famously clashed with the Australian government in 2020 after it passed a law amendment dubbed the “media negotiation law” that would force tech companies to pay local publishers for news and other content they use. , or even link to, on their platforms.

Because of this, Google stopped the News Showcase program in the country for a while and even threatened to take its search engine out of Australia altogether.

Facebook also banned the sharing of news content in the country for a time.

But Australia didn’t back down, and parliament passed the law in February 2021 requiring major tech companies to pay news organizations for the use of their content.

However, it included a last-minute change, removing a key provision that would have forced tech companies into arbitration, giving them more flexibility over the deals they wanted to close.

Last November, Google pledged to spend A$1 billion ($736 million) in Australia over the next five years.

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