Google is facing a privacy complaint filed by a group of European consumer watchdogs that contend the internet giant used manipulative tactics to track the locations of web users so that it could target ads to them.
According to a report, the groups are filing the complaint under the European Union’s new GDPR rules, which recently came into law and enable regulators to fine companies for compliance breaches by as much as 4 percent of its annual turnover on a global basis. Under the rule, companies have to provide a legal basis for using the personal data that is backed by consent. The privacy groups, which include Norway’s Consumer Council, contend that Google doesn’t have a legal reason for tracking customers via Location History or Web & App Activity, according to the report.
“Google is processing incredibly detailed and extensive personal data without proper legal grounds, and the data has been acquired through manipulation techniques,” said Gro Mette Moen, acting head of the Norwegian Consumer Council’s digital services unit, in a statement. “When we carry our phones, Google is recording where we go, down to which floor we are on and how we are moving. This can be combined with other information about us, such as what we search for and what websites we visit. Such information can, in turn, be used for things such as targeted advertising meant to affect us when we are receptive or vulnerable.”
Norway’s Consumer Council has been critical of Google and Facebook in the past. According to the outlet, earlier this year the Council released a report calling attention to what it said were tricks deployed by both companies to nudge users into options that were intrusive to privacy.
Some of the techniques the watchdogs argue that Google employs include the ability to set up location history on an Android device without the user being aware, burying key settings in menus and enabled by default, and presenting misleading information to users at the decision-making point. The group also said that Google’s tactic of repeatedly nudging users to enable location tracking and bundling tracking with unrelated services run afoul of GDPR.
In a statement, Google 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 enable you to control location data in other ways, too, including in a different Google setting called Web & App Activity, and on your device. 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.”