More sanctions for Google in France, after CNIL regulator imposes 150 million euros ($169m) fine on it over the complexity for users to refuse online cookies.

And Alphabet’s Google was not the only tech firm pinged, after the French regulator also announced it was fining Meta (Facebook) 60 million euros over the same matter.

“Following investigations, the CNIL noted that the websites facebook.com, google.fr and youtube.com do not make refusing cookies as easy as to accept them,” said CNIL. “It thus fines FACEBOOK 60 million euros and GOOGLE 150 million euros and orders them to comply within three months.”

Cookie fine

The CNIL said that after its investigations “the websites facebook.com, google.fr and youtube.com offer a button allowing the user to immediately accept cookies. However, they do not provide an equivalent solution (button or other) enabling the Internet user to easily refuse the deposit of these cookies.”

It found that “several clicks are required to refuse all cookies, against a single one to accept them.”

“The restricted committee considered that this process affects the freedom of consent: since, on the Internet, the user expects to be able to quickly consult a website, the fact that they cannot refuse the cookies as easily as they can accept them influences their choice in favor of consent,” it said. “This constitutes an infringement of Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act.”

Both Google and Facebook have been ordered to give users located in France with a means of refusing cookies as simple as the existing means of accepting them.

The CNIL said the two companies had three months to comply with its orders or face an extra penalty payment of 100,000 euros per day of delay.

“People trust us to respect their right to privacy and keep them safe. We understand our responsibility to protect that trust and are committing to further changes and active work with the CNIL in light of this decision,” a Google spokesperson was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Annoying pop-ups

Cookies usage has become an increasingly controversial subject, as privacy campaigners point out that they track the web surfing habits of users in order to help advertisers deliver targetted advertising to users.

But annoying cookie pop-ups are ruining the web surfing experiences for millions of people.

Last September the British data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) urged all its fellow data protection and privacy authorities in G7 countries to overhaul cookie consent pop-ups.

But cookie regulation is a key pillar of the European Union’s data privacy regulation and a top priority for the CNIL, and change therefore is likely to be slow.

Previous Google fines

And it should be remembered that Google has been fined previously by France’s CNIL over the cookie matter.

In December 2020 Google was issued fines totalling 100 million euros ($121.2m), the largest ever fine issued by the CNIL at the time.

At the time, the CNIL found that Google’s French websites didn’t seek the prior consent of visitors before advertising cookies were saved on computers and failed to provide clear information about how it intended to make use of them.

CNIL also confirmed that it had fined Amazon Europe 35 million euros ($42m) for the same matter.

But Google has been repeatedly hit with multiple fines in France over the past few years.

In January 2019 for example Google was slapped with a 50 million euro (£44m) fine for breaking EU privacy laws in France.

Then in September 2019 Google agreed to pay French authorities nearly 1 billion euros (or $1.1bn) to settle a fiscal fraud probe that began four years ago.

And then in June 2021 Google agreed to pay 220m euros (£189m) to settle antitrust charges from French regulators that it unfairly favoured its own tools for buying and selling adverts.

More pain was to follow in July 2021, when the French Competition Authority (FCA) announced that because Google had allegedly failed to comply with the regulator’s orders on how to conduct talks with the country’s news publishers in a row over copyright, it decided to fine Google 500 million euros (£429 million or $591m).

In September Google appealed against that ‘disproportionate fine’.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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