A number of consumer groups from the Netherlands, Poland, Greece, as well as from five other European Union countries requested privacy regulators Tuesday to take action against Google, accusing the tech giant of illicitly tracking the movements of millions of users in violation of the bloc’s new privacy law.
The campaigners from the aforementioned states, including among others Sweden, Norway, and the Czech Republic, issued their complaints to national data protection authorities based on research by their Norwegian colleagues.
In particular, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC,) which notably lobbies consumer interests across-the-board in Europe, alleged that Google tries to encourage users to switch on the so-called ‘location history’ and widely used ‘web and app activity’ in their mobile devices in a variety of ways.
The BEUC lambasted the practices as ‘unfair’, stating that these leave consumers completely unaware of the use of their personal data, and on top of that, suggested that consumers’ consent is not ‘free’:
‘These practices are not compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as Google lacks a valid legal ground for processing the data in question. In particular, the report shows that users’ consent provided under these circumstances is not freely given’, it said.
In response to the accusations a Google spokesman told Reuters that the location history is turned off by default, and ‘you can edit, delete, or pause it at any time’. He went on to say that whenever it’s on, it helps to improve certain services on a mobile phone, however calling attention to the fact that if paused, ‘we make clear that — depending on your individual phone and app settings — we might still collect and use location data to improve your Google experience’.
Meanwhile, in the US, Google is already facing a lawsuit over allegations that they track phone users regardless of individual privacy settings.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect earlier this year and applies to all EU states allowing users to exercise control of their own data, stipulates massive fines of up to four percent of global revenues for companies that break the rules.