France hits Google with 50 million euro data consent fine

Virginia Carson
January 22, 2019

France's data protection watchdog fined Alphabet's Google 50 million euros ($57 million) on Monday for breaching European Union online privacy rules, the biggest such penalty levied against a USA tech giant.

The French Data protection agency CNIL released a statement Monday stating that the staggering €50 million ($56.8mn) fine was motivated by complaints about the company's illegal practices in the collection and use of personal data.

Secondly, even though Google says that it asks for its users' consent before processing data meant for ads personalization, CNIL's restricted committee found that is not the case given that users are not sufficiently informed during this process and the consent is neither "specific" nor "unambiguous", as required by the GDPR.

The CNIL concluded that Google had breached the General Data Protection Regulation in two ways: by failing to meet transparency and information requirements, and failing to obtain a legal basis for processing.

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In a statement, Google said: "People expect high standards of transparency and control from us".

In September a year ago, the French regulator studied the information that's made available to users when they create a Google account on a new Android phone.

"Following the introduction of GDPR, we have found that large corporations such as Google simply "interpret the law differently" and have often only superficially adapted their products", Schrems said in a statement.

Under Europe's data privacy law, tech giants including Google must give users a full, clear picture of the data they collect, along with simple, specific tools for users to consent to having their personal information harnessed. However, the GDPR provides that the consent is "specific" only if it is given distinctly for each goal. The penalty is also connected to the way the French agency sees Google as not being clear enough in a broad sense about how user data is collected and how it's subsequently used.

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Schrems had accused Google of securing "forced consent" through the use of pop-up boxes online or on its apps which imply that its services will not be available unless people accept its conditions of use.

The maximum fine for large companies under the new law is 4% of annual turnover, meaning the theoretical maximum fine for Google is nearly €4bn.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The regulator said it was Google's "utmost responsibility to comply with the obligations on the matter".

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It said the record 50-million-euro fine reflected the seriousness of the failings as well as Google's dominant market position in France via Android.

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