France Upholds Record Google Data Protection Fine

France’s top administrative court has confirmed a record 50 million euro (£45m) fine against Google for data protection violations.

While the fine represents a tiny fraction of Google’s annual revenues, it has a symbolic value as the largest such penalty to date.

GDPR data protection rules introduced that took effect in 2018 allow regulators to fine companies up to 4 percent of their global annual turnover in serious cases.

The decision by the State Council administrative court, announced on Friday, upholds a 2019 decision by France’s CNIL data protection agency.

Consent

The CNIL had fined Google for failing to provide users of Android mobile devices with “sufficiently clear” information when obtaining their consent for the delivery of personalised advertisements.

The GDPR requires that organisations obtain individuals’ informed and freely given consent before processing their personal data.

In this case, the court judged that Google’s processes fail to provide information in such a way for that consent to be valid.

The court said in its decision that the sanction was “not disproportionate”, due to the massive scale and ongoing nature of the violation.

Google said it would review possible changes to its processes.

Changes

“This case was not about whether consent is needed for personalised advertising, but about how exactly it should be obtained,” the company stated.

“In light of this decision, we will now review what changes we need to make.”

Google had appealed the CNIL’s decision, asking for it to be annulled.

The court also noted that information around the data retention period and the purposes of the various processing operations carried out by Google was “sometimes incomplete”.

It objected to some specific features of Google’s consent mechanism, such as a pre-ticked checkbox which it said is incompatible with the GDPR’s consent requirements.

Regulatory pressure

Tech giants including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are under increasing pressure from regulatory authrities in the US and the EU over a range of issues, including data concerns and allegedly anti-competitive practices.

All four companies are expected to participate in competition hearings by the US Congress this summer, while the EU last week opened formal antitrust probes into Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay systems.

The European Commission imposed a record 4.3bn antitrust fine on Google in 2018, saying the company had “used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine”.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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