Google cops $79 million fine for breaching GDPR

France's data protection commission fines the digital giant 50 million Euros, the first time a company has been penalised under the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe

France’s data protection authority has fined Google a hefty 50 million Euros (AUD$79.4 million) for breaches of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the first fine to be levied since the act came into effect in May 2018.

The National Data Protection Commission (CNIL) has charged Google with violating transparency and information rules around user information, as well as a lack of valid consent around ad personalisation. Specifically, the group has said Google’s information to users about how data is being used is neither clear nor comprehensive, while the structure of information does not enable it to comply with GDPR.

The fine follows an eight-month investigation by CNIL, which initially kicked off in June last year following two complaints made by associations, None Of Your Business (NOYB) and La Quadrature du Net (LQDN), the latter mandated by 10,000 people to present the case. Both related to Google’s lack of clarity around consumer data utilisation for advertising purposes.

In September, CNIL said it carried out online inspections to verify whether Google was complying with operational protocol as set out by GDPR. Off the back of this, the regulation authority identified two breaches: Lack of transparency; and lack of legal basis for ad personalisation processing.

Specifically, Google’s user consent processes around personal data were found to be invalid because users were not given sufficient information. In addition, CNIL said information was being collated in a way that didn’t allow users to be aware of the extent of data being deployed for ad personalisation purposes.

“Despite the measurements implemented by Google [documentation and configuration tools] the infringements observed deprive the users of essential guarantees regarding processing operations that can reveal important parts of their private life, since they are based on a huge amount of data, a wider variety of services and almost unlimited possible combinations,” the statement read.   

“For example, in the section ‘ads personalisation’, it is not possible to be aware of the plurality of services, websites and applications involved in processing operations [Google Search, YouTube, Google Home, Google Maps, Playstore, Google pictures] and therefore the amount of data processed and combined.

“Then, the restricted committee observes the collected consent is neither ‘specific’ nor ‘unambiguous’.

It’s the first time CNIL has imposed a financial penalty under the GDPR. And its stance and fine should be seen as a warning to other organisations to take heed of the regulations or risk significant financial and brand risk.

“The amount decided and the publicity of the fine, are justified by the severity of the infringements observed regarding the essential principles of the GDPR: Transparency, information and consent,” CNIL stated.

“Moreover, the violations are continuous breaches of the regulation as they are still observed to date. It is not a one-off, time-limited infringement.”

A Google spokesperson said the digital giant is now studying the decision to determine its next steps.

“People expect high standards of transparency and control from us. We’re deeply committed to meeting those expectations and the consent requirements of the GDPR,” the spokesperson said.

GDPR was formally introduced across the European Union in May 2018 and is one of the most significant data privacy reforms to come out in years. The ambition is to give users more rights to protect their personal data, and the regulation covers concepts such as ‘right to be forgotten’, data breach accountability and data portability.

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