GDPR on laptop

European consumer groups urge regulators to counter Google tracking

Image credit: Pixabay

Agencies in the Netherlands, Poland and five other European Union countries have asked privacy regulators to take action against Google for allegedly tracking the movements of millions of users, breaching the group’s new privacy law.

Based on research by their Norwegian counterpart, the consumer groups – which include those in the Czech Republic, Greece, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden – have filed complaints about the breach with their respective national data protection authorities.

Consumer lobby group the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) alleges that Google uses various methods to encourage users to enable the settings ‘location history’ and ‘web and app activity’ which are integrated into all Google user accounts.

Speaking on behalf of the countries’ consumer groups, BEUC said: “These unfair practices leave consumers in the dark about the use of their personal data.

“These practices are not compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation, as Google lacks a valid legal ground for processing the data in question. In particular, the report shows that users' consent provided under these circumstances is not freely given,” it added.

GDPR, which allows users to control their data, foresees fines of up to 4 per cent of global revenues for companies that break the rules, with Google already facing a lawsuit in the United States for allegedly tracking phone users despite privacy settings.

In response to the complaints, a Google spokesman said: “Location History is turned off by default, and you can edit, delete, or pause it at any time. If it’s on, it helps improve services like predicted traffic on your commute.

“If you pause it, we make clear that – depending on your individual phone and app settings – we might still collect and use location data to improve your Google experience.

“We’re constantly working to improve our controls, and we'll be reading this report closely to see if there are things we can take on board,” he said.

In related news, human rights organisation Amnesty International has announced a new protest campaign, calling on Google to cancel its controversial plan to launch a censored search engine in China, a move that Google’s CEO publicly acknowledged in October.

On Monday, Amnesty launched a petition against the search engine and said it will stage demonstrations outside Google offices in the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Spain.

It claimed in a statement that Google’s plan for China would “irreparably damage internet users’ trust in the tech company,” and, “would set a dangerous precedent for tech companies enabling rights abuses by governments.”

In August, an investigation by the Associated Press found that many Google-run services continue to store location data, even when the user picks a privacy setting that explicitly says that it will prevent Google from collecting and storing this data.

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