Australian Consumer Watchdog Accuses Google of Misleading Customers Over Data Privacy

An Australian watchdog has taken aim at Google for allegedly misleading customers, this time in regards to the search giant’s use of personal data.

According to a new report from Reuters, Australia’s competition and consumer rights watchdog — Australian Competition & Consumer Commission — on July 26, sued Google for allegedly “misleading” “millions of Australians” to collect “potentially sensitive and private” browsing history of its users, without people’s informed consent.

As such, Google is being accused of using personal information in consumers’ Google accounts in conjunction with information about those individuals’ activities on non-Google sites to display ads despite not being given explicit consent.

“This meant this data about users’ non-Google online activity became linked to their names and other identifying information held by Google. Previously, this information had been kept separately from users’ Google accounts, meaning the data was not linked to an individual user,” the ACCC said.

From June 2016 to at least December 2018, Google account holders were prompted to click “I agree” to a pop-up notification from Google that purported to explain how it planned to expand the use of personal data in order to gain consent.

The notification stated, “we’ve introduced some optional features for your account, giving you more control over the data Google collects and how it’s used, while allowing Google to show you more relevant ads.”

It also stated, “more information will be available in your Google Account making it easier for you to review and control” and “Google will use this information to make ads across the web more relevant for you.”

The consumer watchdog is also alleging that Google misled consumers about a related update to its privacy policy. The update included changing the privacy policy to include, “depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.”

Google is also facing a separate ongoing privacy lawsuit filed by the ACCC over how it uses users’ location data. It has accusing Google of not informing users, for almost 2 years, about the settings they had to switch off for it to not keep their information, and that it misled users about how it collected and used their location data.

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