EU consumer groups file complaint against Google over 'deceptive' sign-up practices

'You are subjected to surveillance by design and by default.'

Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

Consumer groups in Europe have filed complaints against Google for using "deceptive design, unclear language and misleading choices" in its sign-up process, the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) said in a press release. "Contrary to what Google claims about protecting consumers’ privacy, tens of millions of Europeans have been placed on a fast track to surveillance when they signed up to a Google account," said BEUC deputy director Ursula Pachl.

Europe's GDPR rules are supposed to make it easy to choose settings that protect your privacy, but Google violates that principal when you create an account, it claims. It also emphasizes that having a Google account is a must for the Android users if they want to get apps from Google Play.

"Signup is the critical point at which Google makes users indicate their ‘choices’ about how their Google account will operate. With only one step, the consumer activates all the account settings that feed Google’s surveillance activities. Google does not provide consumers with the option to turn all settings ‘off’ in one click," the BEUC wrote.

If you do want more privacy-friendly options, you have to use manual personalization involving "five steps with nine clicks and grappling with information that is unclear, complete and misleading," it added.

The group noted that it first filed complaints about Google's location-tracking practices three years ago and a decision has still not been made by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner in charge. Now, the BEUC has organized 10 consumer groups which have filed complaints in France, Norway, Greece and other EU member states.

In reply, Google gave the following statement to TechCrunch:

We know that consumer trust depends on honesty and transparency — which is why we’ve staked our future success on building ever simpler, more accessible controls and giving people clearer choices. And, just as important, doing more with less data. We welcome the opportunity to engage on this important topic with Europe’s consumer advocates and regulators. People should be able to understand how data is generated from their use of internet services. If they don’t like it, they should be able to do something about it.

The company also said that it tried to follow EU guidance that requires a "two-fold obligation of being precise and complete on the one hand and understandable on the other hand." It added that it based its choices on "extensive research efforts, guidance from DPA's [data protection authorities] and feedback from testers."

The BEUC said Google's practices haven't changed since it first filed its complaint, though. "We need swift action from the authorities because having one of the biggest players ignoring the GDPR is unacceptable," said Pachl. "This case is of strategic importance for which cooperation among data protection authorities across the EU must be prioritized and supported by the European Data Protection Board." Google has faced the EU's wrath before, receiving a $5 billion fine in 2018 over its app and browser choice practices.