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South Korea fines Google, Meta record $72 million for violating privacy law

South Korea fined Google 69.2 billion won ($50 million) and Meta 30.8 billion won ($22 million) for privacy law violations

What’s the news: South Korea on September 14 fined Google 69.2 billion won ($50 million) and Meta 30.8 billion won ($22 million) for privacy law violations, the country’s Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC) said in a press release.

What practices led to the fine: According to the translated press release, both Google and Meta violated the country’s Personal Information Protection Act by collecting customer behaviour data without their proper consent and using it for targeted advertisements. Behaviour data includes website and app visit/use history, purchase/search history, and online activity information that can identify and analyze interests, preferences, and tendencies, PIPC said.

When seeking consent, the setting screen was hidden and the default was set to “Agree” on Google’s services, the Commission observed. Meanwhile, Meta’s data policy was in a form that was not easy for users to understand and did not contain specific details as required by the law, the Commission added.

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Why does this matter: This penalty is the largest issued by South Korea for violation of privacy laws and the first investigation into the collection and use of behavioural data by online advertising platforms, PIPC stated. The fine also comes at a time when various global regulators including the EU and India are looking into Google and Meta’s privacy practices.

Meta’s response: “While we respect the PIPC’s decision, we are confident that we work with our clients in a legally compliant way that meets the processes required by local regulations. As such, we do not agree with the commission’s decision and will be open to all options, including seeking a ruling from the court,” a Meta spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Google’s response: “We disagree with the PIPC’s findings and will be reviewing the full written decision once it’s shared with us. We’ve always demonstrated our commitment to making ongoing updates that give users control and transparency while providing the most helpful products possible. We remain committed to engaging with the PIPC to protect the privacy of South Korean users,” a Google spokesperson told Reuters.

Google’s French fine: Back in 2019, France’s data regulator CNIL fined Google 50 million euros for somewhat similar practices, 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.”

South Korea’s investigation into Play Store: Separately, the South Korean telecom regulator is investigating Apple App Store and Google Play Store over alleged violations of the country’s new app store regulations, which require Apple and Google to allow developers to use third-party payment options.

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