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Australian government sues Google for misleading consumers in data collection

New lawsuit says Google didn’t adequately explain a 2016 policy change.
Ann Smajstrla
July 27, 2020
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BANGKOK, THAILAND - JANUARY 18: Australia flag detail inside the Australia dressing room prior to the AFC U-23 Championship Quarter Final match between Australia and Syria at Rajamangala National Stadium on January 18, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)
Robertus Pudyanto via Getty Images

The Australian government has filed its second lawsuit against Google in less than a year over privacy concerns, this time alleging the tech giant misled Australian consumers in an attempt to gather information for targeted ads. The Australian Competition and Consumers Commission (ACCC), the country’s consumer watchdog, says Google didn’t obtain explicit consent from consumers to collect personal data, according to a statement.

The ACCC cites a 2016 change to Google’s policy in which the company began collecting data about Google account holders’ activity on non-Google sites. Previously, this data was collected by ad-serving technology company DoubleClick and was stored separately, not linked to users’ Google accounts. Google acquired DoubleClick in 2008, and the 2016 change to Google’s policy meant Google and DoubleClick’s data on consumers were combined. Google then used the beefed-up data to sell even more targeted advertising.

From June 2016 to December 2018, Google account holders were met with a pop-up that explained “optional features” to accounts regarding how the company collected their data. Consumers could click “I agree,” and Google would begin collecting a “wide range of personally identifiable information” from them, according to the ACCC. The lawsuit contends that the pop-up didn’t adequately explain what consumers were agreeing to.

“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,” said ACCC Chair Rod Sims. Had more consumers sufficiently understood Google’s change in policy, many may not have consented to it, according to the ACCC.

Google told the Associated Press it disagrees with the ACCC’s allegations, and says Google account holders had been asked to “consent via prominent and easy-to-understand notifications.” It’s unclear what penalty the ACCC is seeking with the lawsuit.

Last October, the ACCC sued Google claiming the company misled Android users about the ability to opt out of location tracking on phones and tablets. That case is headed to mediation next week, according to a February Computer World article.

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