Just weeks after Microsoft faced scrutiny for breaching European GDPR laws, another tech giant is in the regulatory spotlight. This time it is Google, a familiar foe of the European Commission. The latest slight against regulations in Europe comes from watchdogs who have filed a privacy complaint.
Google is accused of using manipulative tactics to follow users' locations when they are online. As is usual with Mountain View, the company is keeping tabs on users for targeting them with ads.
Several consumer organizations say Google has violated GDPR rules, which means the European Commission could fine the company for 4% of its earnings.
Watchdogs say Google has no grounds to track users through Location History and Web & App Activity. All Google account holders agree to these aspects of the company's practices on Android smartphones.
“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.”
As you would expect, Google has defended its position, arguing Location History is off by default and users are given the option to use it or not. Furthermore, the company says it makes it clear when data is being gathered. In a statement to TechCrunch, 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.”
Google is certainly no stranger to problems in Europe and those issues look set to continue under new GDPR laws. The company has been handed the two largest fines in the history of the European Commission.
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in May that the company is “out of control”. He urged European authorities to act and clamp down on Google's practices.
“I still believe that the … power of Google in Europe is out of control,” he said. “I think they should be regulated to permit competition. I thought that when I worked at Microsoft; I still believe it. Microsoft has backed off from that. That's new leadership's perspective. But I absolutely think there's a problem, and the Europeans were on to an appropriate form of regulation.”