EU Consumer Groups File Privacy Complaints Against Google

July 19, 2022

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation specifies platforms must protect users’ privacy “by design and by default.” However, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) asserts Google’s registration process violates that regulation. The BBC reports, “Google Sign-Up ‘Fast Track to Surveillance’, Consumer Groups Say.” The BEUC is leading a band of 10 consumer organizations in filing complaints against the company with data-protection authorities in several European countries. The Federation of German Consumer Organisations has gone so far as to send Google a warning letter. The article notes:

“The [BEUC] believes sign-up is the critical point at which Google asks users to choose how their account will operate. But the simplest one step ‘express personalisation’ process, it alleges, leaves consumers with account settings that ‘feed Google’s surveillance activities’. And the consumer organisation says Google does not provide users with the option to turn all settings ‘off’ in one click. Instead, BEUC says, it takes five steps and ten clicks to turn off the trackers Google wants to activate on a new account – these relate to web and app activity, YouTube history and personalised advertising on their account. Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of the BEUC, said: ‘It takes one simple step to let Google monitor and exploit everything you do. If you want to benefit from privacy-friendly settings, you must navigate through a longer process and a mix of unclear and misleading options’. Ms Pachl added: ‘In short, when you create a Google account, you are subjected to surveillance by design and by default. Instead, privacy protection should be the default and easiest choice for consumers.'”

We are reminded Google requires registration before one can use most of its ubiquitous services. Google insists its sign-up process makes users’ privacy options clear and simple to navigate. That may be a matter of opinion, depending on how tech savvy one is, but the insistence is a red herring. The point is that requiring users to jump through hoops to secure privacy means it cannot be considered the “default” setting, as the law requires. The effort to bring these complaints emerges as a similar complaint filed by the BEUC in Ireland in 2018 is said to be making progress, with a draft decision expected in a matter of months. Perhaps one or more of these actions will result in penalties large enough that Google cannot shrug them off as easily as a strongly worded letter. Hey, anything is possible.

Cynthia Murrell, July 22, 2022

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