Google Accused of Unfair Privacy Practice

John Lister's picture

Consumer groups claim Google acts unfairly in getting permission to use personal data. They say the sign-up process makes it far more time-consuming to exercise the right to limit data use.

The complaints come from consumer groups in six European countries who have complained to national data regulators while warning they may also launch a civil court case.

The European setting is key as data laws there say companies that rely on consent to make data handling lawful must make sure the decision to give consent is based on having a meaningful choice. Businesses aren't supposed to make both options (giving and withholding consent) equally prominent and equally easy to exercise.

According to the consumer groups, Google violates that principle because its sign-up process offers a one-click button to give consent to extensive data use, while opting out of all data use can take 10 clicks. They also object to Google framing a decision to opt out of data use as giving up on advantages such as customized results. (Source:

Google Defends Options

Users who sign up to Google and simply click through the default settings give consent for the company to use their entire search history and use of apps (such as YouTube) for personalized targeted advertising.

The consumer groups said Google's sign-up process "prevents the consumer from taking an informed decision when they make their choices and results in unfair, non-transparent and unlawful processing of their personal data."

Google countered by saying "These options are clearly labeled and designed to be simple to understand. We have based them on extensive research efforts and guidance from [data protection authorities] and feedback from testers." (Source:

Consent Should Not Be Default

The issue of default settings has come up in several high-profile rulings on Europe's data laws. For example, using checkboxes or toggles that are set to consent to cookies by default is no longer allowed, even though users have the option to change the settings before proceedings.

It's all part of an overall legal principle that data use should protect "privacy by design" and "privacy by default."

What's Your Opinion?

Do you remember choosing privacy options when you signed up to Google? Should companies be forced to give equal prominence and simplicity to both giving and refusing consent to data use? Do data use policies affect your choice of online services?

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