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French data regulator slaps Google with a €50M GDPR fine over lack of transparency and consent

France’s data regulator CNIL has slapped a fine of 50 million euros on Google, claiming that the company was in breach of the EU’s data protection rule GDPR. CNIL said that it imposed the fine for “lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent regarding ads personalization” and because “users’ consent is not sufficiently obtained.”

Its worth noting that this is the first major penalty against a US company for violating GDPR rules. Google said that it is studying the decision to determine its next steps, per Washington Post.

The penalty is the result of an investigation into two complaints filed by two privacy advocacy groups – None of Your Business (NOYB) and La Quadrature du Net (LQDN). The complaints were filed in May 2018, immediately after the GDPR came into effect. The groups claimed that Google did not have any legal basis to process user data for serving personalized ads, as mandated by the GDPR.

  • Lack of transparency

CNIL found that Google made it difficult for users to access information about data processing and data storage periods, and about how this data was used for ad personalization. “The relevant information is accessible after several steps only, implying sometimes up to 5 or 6 actions,” CNIL noted.

“Users are not able to fully understand the extent of the processing operations carried out by Google…the purposes of processing are described in a too generic and vague manner, and so are the categories of data processed for these various purposes.”

CNIL further noted that Google has not informed users clearly enough for them to understand that data processing [is meant to be] carried out on the basis on user consent, and not the company’s interest.

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  • Not sufficient or valid consent

The regulator added that Google has failed to obtain valid legal consent from users’ for processing data. “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,” notes CNIL.

It said that the option to personalize ads is pre-ticked, which violates the GDPR requirement that consent be “unambiguous”, obtained with a “clear affirmative action” from the user, for instance by “ticking a non-pre-ticked box.” The GDPR provides that the consent is specific only when it is given distinctly for each purpose.

Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix and Spotify face complaints in Austria 

Its worth noting that Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix and Spotify are facing complaints with Austria’s data regulator for violating a GDPR requirement which mandates that companies let users download copies of their personal data collection by tech companies. GDPR also requires that the information be both machine-readable and easily understood by customers.

The complaint was filed by NYOB, which was also one of the complainants in the Google case. For context, the maximum penalty for GDPR breach is 20 million euros or 4% of a company’s global turnover.

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