Google is selling the personal data of users despite promising not to do so, US media reported, citing court papers filed in a San José court last week by three plaintiffs - Meaghan Delahunty and John Kevranian, of California, and Meghan Cornelius, of Texas.
They claim that the sale of their data as well the information of other individuals occurs "continually and surreptitiously" via the company’s "real-time" auction system for digital advertising.
"Google promises its hundreds of millions of users that it 'will never sell any personal information to third parties' and 'you get to decide how your information is used'. These promises are false", reads the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs allege that the tech giant monitors individuals' "digital footprint", which includes personal information such as browsing history, their interests, information on their movements, and ethnicity, in order to sell it to third parties and make billions of dollars. The data is collected via the company’s various apps and products, such as Gmail, YouTube, and Google Chrome.
The lawsuit claims Google generated a large part of its advertising revenue last year due to this purported activity. The amount of data sold is estimated to be worth $147 billion. The lawsuit also features two letters sent to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai by a group of American lawmakers.
"Few Americans realize that companies are siphoning off and storing that 'bidstream' data to compile exhaustive dossiers about them", the letters said. "These dossiers include their web browsing, location, and other data, which are then sold by data brokers to hedge funds, political campaigns, and even to the government without court orders".
The tech giant has categorically denied the accusations. A company spokesman said privacy and transparency are essential to Google’s work. "We never sell people’s personal information and we have strict policies specifically prohibiting personalized ads based on sensitive categories", spokesman José Castañeda said.
Over the course of its history, the tech giant has been accused of violations of privacy. In 2010, the FTC said Google "used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers" when it attempted to launch the now-defunct Buzz social network.
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission fined the company $25,000 for collecting personal information without permission for its Street View project. That same year, the FTC slapped it with a $22.5 million fine when it became known that it had tracked Apple users for several months, circumventing privacy protections.