The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has launched federal court proceedings against Google for allegedly misleading Australian consumers on the extent of the personal data it collected.
The agency claimed Google failed to properly inform customers and did not gain their explicit informed consent when the company changed its methods of collecting personal data in 2016.
Google started combining personal information in consumers’ Google accounts with information about their activities on non-Google sites that used Google technology to display ads.
The ACCC said the move meant data about users’ non-Google online activity became linked to their names and other identifying information held by Google, helping bolster the commercial performance of its advertising business.
Prior to 2016, the information was kept separately from users’ Google accounts, so data isn’t linked to an individual user.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said, “We are taking this action because we consider Google misled Australian consumers about what it planned to do with large amounts of their personal information, including internet activity on websites not connected to Google.”
“Google significantly increased the scope of information it collected about consumers on a personally identifiable basis. This included potentially very sensitive and private information about their activities on third party websites. It then used this information to serve up highly targeted advertisements without consumers’ express informed consent.”
The agency alleges the change has impacted millions of Australians with Google accounts.
Updated 27 July 1:18pm: A Google ANZ spokesperson provided the following statement:
“In June 2016, we updated our ads system and associated user controls to match the way people use Google products: across many different devices. The changes we made were optional and we asked users to consent via prominent and easy-to-understand notifications. If a user did not consent, their experience of our products and services remained unchanged."
"We have cooperated with the ACCC’s investigation into this matter. We strongly disagree with their allegations and intend to defend our position.”