Google accused of online tracking by EU consumer groups

BRUSSELS (AFP): European consumer groups accused Google on Thursday of violating online privacy by pushing their users to blindly sign-in to a Google account in order for their data to be tracked and exploited for profit.

The allegations are being filed under the EU’s GDPR rules, a European data privacy regulation that is designed to ensure that the personal data of Europeans is not illegally exploited.

Consumer watchdogs from five countries, including France, Greece and Slovenia filed complaints with their national authorities under the coordination of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

“Google is using deceptive design, unclear language and misleading choices when consumers sign up to a Google account to encourage more extensive and invasive data processing,” BEUC said in a statement.

At issue is the centrality of creating an account when users turn to Google for its services, most notably the company’s Android operating system that is used by seven out of 10 phones worldwide.

Forced to create an account, the user is then given a one-click option to “let Google monitor and exploit everything you do”, said Ursula Pachl, deputy-head of BEUC.

“If you want to benefit from privacy-friendly settings, you must navigate through a longer process and mix of unclear and misleading options,” she added.

Google denied that its account sign-in options were limiting.

“These options are clearly labelled and designed to be simple to understand,” a Google spokesperson said.

“We have based them on extensive research efforts and guidance from data protection authorities and feedback from testers. We are committed to ensuring these choices are clear and simple,” the spokesperson added.

CNIL, the French data privacy regulator that received the complaint, has previously hit Google with fines of 150 million euros and 100 million euros over data violations.

Earlier this month, Wojciech Wiewiorowski, the EU’s European Data Protection Supervisor, complained that GDPR cases were not sufficiently enforced.

This was seen as a rebuke to Ireland, where many tech giants are based, and where some of the biggest cases against the likes of Facebook’s Meta and Google end up.