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France fines Google $57 million for breaking Europe's strict new privacy rules

23 January 2019

Responding to the €50 million penalty levied against Google, Ailidh Callander of Privacy International said, "This fine should serve as a wake-up call for all companies whose business models are based on data exploitation to take data protection and individuals' data rights seriously".

CNIL's investigation was triggered by privacy activist Max Schrems, who has filed multiple lawsuits against major tech firms, and French privacy group La Quadrature du Net.

Implemented across the European Union (EU) in May of 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aims to bar tech companies from relying on "long illegible terms and conditions full of legalese" to obtain and use data.

While the company's European headquarters is located in Ireland, authorities decided that the case would be handled by CNIL since the Irish watchdog lacked "decision-making power" over its Android operating system and services.

"The information on processing operations for the ads personalization is diluted in several documents and does not enable the user to be aware of their extent", the CNIL wrote. The relevant information is accessible after several steps only, implying sometimes up to 5 or 6 actions. In the complaints, it was argued that Google does not have a 'valid legal basis to process the personal data of the users of its services, particularly for ads personalisation purposes'.

"People expect high standards of transparency and control from us". Google's description of why it's processing their data is "described in a too generic and vague manner", it added.

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As concluded by CNIL's press release (original French version here) regarding Google's €50 million financial penalty, the fine was justified by the gravity of the company's infringements of essential GDPR principles such as information, transparency, and consent.

The commission said users were "not sufficiently informed" about what they were agreeing to. Moreover, the watchdog notes that the choice of ads personalisation is a pre-ticked box, another no-go under GDPR.

The basis of the fine is that Google doesn't give customers enough information about how their data is being used.

The regulator found that the information Google is required by the GDPR and the FDPA to provide the user is opaque and not easily found by a user. Then, the restricted committee observes that the collected consent is neither "specific" nor "unambiguous".

"This is going to change the perspective between the profits that internet companies are able to make from the data of users and the risk of being sanctioned with fines", Mr. Dana said.

France fines Google $57 million for breaking Europe's strict new privacy rules