French Court Upholds 100m Euro Fine On Google Over Cookies

Alphabet’s Google division has suffered a setback in French courts, after it rejected an attempt to annual a stiff regulatory fine.

In December 2020 Google was issued fines totalling 100 million euros ($112m), the largest ever fine issued by the French data privacy watchdog (CNIL) at the time.

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

Court ruling

At the same time CNIL also had fined Amazon Europe 35 million euros over the same matter.

The French regulator said that it imposed the fines on both Amazon and Google because the firms had “placed advertising cookies on users’ computers, from the page (amazon.fr/search engine google.fr), without obtaining prior consent and without providing adequate information.”

The regulator felt that both companies had failed to clearly explain the cookies and how they would be used, and they failed to obtain user consent, resulting in breaches of Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act.

Both Google and Amazon said in December 2020 they did not agree with the CNIL over the matter.

Now Reuters has reported that France’s Conseil d’Etat, the country’s supreme administrative court, as saying on Friday that it upheld the watchdog fine on the US tech giant.

The court reportedly said in a statement that the 100m euros fine imposed by France’s CNIL data protection authority was proportionate.

“The Conseil d’Etat therefore rejects Google’s demand to annul the sanction,” it said.

Refusing cookies

And this is not the only fine levied against Google by CNIL.

Earlier this month CNIL imposed a 150 million euros ($169m) fine on Google, and 60m euros fine on Meta (Facebook), over complexities about refusing online cookies.

The CNIL said that after its investigations “the websites facebook.com, google.fr and youtube.com offered a button allowing the user to immediately accept cookies.

However, the websites did 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.”

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

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 noted that 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 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 in 2015.

And then in June 2021 Google agreed to pay 220m euros 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 had 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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