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EU consumer groups accuse Google of privacy violations

June 30, 2022

Google uses unclear language and deceptive designs that trick users into agreeing to give up their data, EU watchdogs have said. The tech company has two other pending antitrust suits in the EU.

Google logo on a smartphone
The EU has in 2022 been on a campaign to regulate big tech companies Image: Herwin Bahar/ZUMAPRESS.com/picture alliance

European consumer groups on Thursday accused Google of violating online privacy rights, citing an issue in Google's account sign-up process. They alleged that users were not told how much data would be gathered via their Google accounts upon signing up for them. 

"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," according to a statement from BEUC, the European Consumer Organization. 

Consumer groups in France, Greece, the Czech Republic, Norway and Slovenia filed grievances against Google with their data protection authorities, said BEUC, an umbrella group of more than 46 consumer organizations.

The German consumer body sent a warning letter to Google over practices at the tech giant that could lead to a civil lawsuit. Groups in the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden had also alerted their national privacy regulators of Google's data privacy practices.

What Google knows about you

The core of the issue, according to BEUC, is that users are pushed into creating a Google account to access the Alphabet Inc.-owned company's range of services. This includes the Android operating systems used on 70% of phones worldwide. 

The BEUC's deputy head claimed that Google users in the EU must "navigate through a longer process and mix of unclear and misleading options," to access settings that better protect their data, said Ursula Pachl. 

Forced to create an account, users receive a one-click option to "let Google monitor and exploit everything you do," Pachl added.

And, if users opt-out, BEUC said, Google leads them to feel that they are "missing out" on the full advantages offered by the platform.

Google: Privacy settings easy to understand

A Google spokesperson denied the accusations, claiming that the company's privacy settings were "clearly labelled and designed to be simple to understand."

The spokesperson added that Google conducted extensive research and tests to ensure that privacy options were accessible to consumers. 

"We have based them on extensive research efforts and guidance from data protection authorities and feedback from testers," the spokesperson added.

The allegations are being filed under the EU's GDPR rules, a privacy regulation that governs how EU citizen data is processed, transferred and stored by companies. 

Google has been fined more than €8 billion ($8.4 billion) by EU antitrust regulators before. The tech company is also at the center of two ongoing antitrust investigations. Google faces fines of up to 2% of its global turnover if found guilty of violating EU privacy laws. 

asw/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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