Today the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission formally started Federal Court proceedings against Google in the Australian Federal Court. The ACCC is claiming that Google has mislead consumers regarding data collection and aggregation practices, here’s their opening statement:

The ACCC has launched Federal Court proceedings against Google LLC (Google), alleging Google misled Australian consumers to obtain their consent to expand the scope of personal information that Google could collect and combine about consumers’ internet activity, for use by Google, including for targeted advertising.

The main complaint the ACCC is levying is that in 2016 Google changed the way they treated data collected on non-Google sites. Previously Google had not combined data collected via third party websites with data collected on a Google operated site.

The ACCC contends that following 2016 this data was combined with users’ main Google accounts and was used to inform overall data-targeting actives including advertising. In Australia it is alleged that Google never obtained consent for this data merging or tracking.

The ACCC acknowledges that Google did put a system in place to seek user ‘permission’ following the change. An “I agree” button was added to a notification informing of a change to how Google was making ads more relevant. Here is the text of that notification:

Again the ACCC is alleging that this did not inform Australian consumers to the full scale or intent of the change in data tracking. Effectively they categorise this as an increase in the data cost of using Google Services to Australians without full consent.

The exact claims made by the ACCC are specific and nuanced so we recommend you follow the link below and parse the information for yourself. As yet Google has not had an opportunity to respond either via the courts or in a released statement.

With Google long being criticised for their data privacy practices, at least where targeted advertising is concerned this is going to be a very interesting case to watch unfold. There’s nothing new in this filing that we didn’t already know in July of 2020, however that doesn’t mean the ACCC should not raise concerns about previous harms to Australians.

What we do wonder is if the ACCC will also be going after Facebook for their infamous ‘shadow profiles’ — something that has never been conclusively proven but is well considered to exist, at least in some fashion.

The US government has recently taken Facebook to court over their practice of tracking non logged in users across the internet without their knowledge or consent.

We are happy if the ACCC is looking after consumers in Australia, we just hope they are doing it evenly. We will continue to monitor this case as it plays out over what we expect will be a very long time.

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    Andrew
    Andrew
    2 months ago

    The ACCC media statement is a strange thing. They say “Previously, this additional data had been stored separately from a user’s Google account.” but don’t go on to say “… by Google”. They already had all of the third-party site tracking information through their advertising placement business. No new data was collected, and no data leaked out of Google. Instead, users gained the ability to filter interest terms on their account dashboard. That seemed like a win for users to me (which is why I happily accepted). And after all that noise: the ACCC don’t suggest a remedy, penalty or… Read more »

    Andrew
    Andrew
    2 months ago

    “we recommend you follow the link below” doesn’t lead to an obvious link to the ACCC’s statement. Did you mean this one? https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/correction-accc-alleges-google-misled-consumers-about-expanded-use-of-personal-data-0 The original one seems to have been removed due to use of a poor example.