Australia is suing Google for the second time in under a year. This time, Google is being sued for misleading consumers to gather info for targeted advertising and for not gathering explicit consent from consumers before collecting their data. The country’s data privacy watchdog, The Australian Competition and Consumers Commission (ACCC) is suing Google for “its move in 2016 to start combining personal information in consumers’ Google accounts with information about those individuals’ activities on non-Google sites that used Google technology, formerly DoubleClick technology, to display ads.”
Google’s acquisition of Double-Click, essentially doubled their ability to target and surveil consumers online habits. This data about the online behavior of non-Google users was connected to their names and other identity details Google already had. This information had previously been kept separate from Google user accounts, ensuring the data was not connected to a specific person.
Google’s acquisition of Double-Click allowed them to seriously improve and increase the data they had to sell to advertisers. Shortly after merging Double-Click, Google account holders were presented with a pop-up from June 2016 to December 2018 that outlined “optional features” to accounts on how Google collected their data. Consumers could click “I accept,” and according to the ACCC, Google will begin to collect from them a “large array of personally identifiable information.” The ACCC is arguing that the wording used by Google was too vague and misled consumers about what they were agreeing to.
The ACCC Chair Rod Sims summarized how Google used the deception of consumers to greatly increase their ad revenue and profit. Sims said, “Google significantly increased the scope of information it collected about consumers on a personally identifiable basis. This included potentially very sensitive and private information about their activities on third party websites. It then used this information to serve up highly targeted advertisements without consumers’ express informed consent,” Mr Sims said.
Google said it had cooperated with the watchdog in its investigation and that its account holders had been asked to “consent via prominent and easy-to-understand notifications,” according to the Associated Press. “We strongly disagree with their allegations and intend to defend our position,” said a spokesperson from Google. Within the past year, not only has the ACCC already filed a lawsuit against the giant tech company, but Google has faced attacks from all sides.
This past February, Arizona’s neighbor state New Mexico filed a lawsuit against Google and their educational services for violating The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) because they were recording and selling student data without consent. The Arizona Attorney General also filed a lawsuit against Google for consistent violations of all android users’ privacy arguing Google was collecting geolocational data of users who had turned off their digital tracking settings and more.
While there are obvious worries and issues with the way Google presents data collection to consumers, they have also done a lot to promote trust and transparency. Just last month Google tweaked its privacy settings to keep less data on new users by default, automatically and continuously deleting web and app activity as well as location history after 18 months. As other companies continue to stress consumer data privacy and protection, Google seems to be taking steps in the right direction.