ACCC takes Google to court saying it misled consumers for targeted advertising

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 27 July 2020

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is taking Google to court over allegations the tech giant misled Australian consumers to obtain further personal information it could use for targeted advertising.

The watchdog, which has launched legal proceedings in the Federal Court, alleges Google misled consumers when it failed to properly inform them, and did not gain their explicit informed consent, about its move in 2016 to start combining personal information in Google accounts with information about individuals’ activities on non-Google sites that used Google technology, fomermely DoubleClick, to display ads.

This meant data about users’ non-Google online activity became linked to their names and other identifying information held by Google, which was used by the tech giant to improve its advertising business, the ACCC says.

Previously, this information had been kept separately from users’ Google accounts, meaning the data was not linked to an individual user.

The ACCC also alleges that Google misled consumers about a related change to its privacy policy.

“Google significantly increased the scope of information it collected about consumers on a personally identifiable basis,” Rod Sims, ACCC Chair says.

“This included potentially very sensitive and private information about their activities on third party websites. It then used this information to serve up highly targeted advertisements without consumers’ express informed consent.

“We allege that Google did not obtain explicit consent from consumers to take this step. The use of this new combined information allowed Google to increase significantly the value of its advertising products, from which it generated much higher profits.”

Millions of Australians are alleged to have been impacted by the move from June 28, 2016 to at least December 2018.

“The ACCC considers that consumers effectively pay for Google’s services with their data, so this change introduced by Google increased the ‘price’ of Google’s services, without consumers’ knowledge,” Sims says.

Google says it has cooperated with the watchdog and will defend itself against the allegations.

“In June 2016, we updated our ads system and associated user controls to match the way people use Google products: across many different devices,” a Google spokesperson says.

“The changes we made were optional and we asked users to consent via prominent and easy-to-understand notifications. If a user did not consent, their experience of our products and services remained unchanged.

“We have cooperated with the ACCC’s investigation into this matter. We strongly disagree with their allegations and intend to defend our position.”

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