Google Accused of Privacy Breaches by Australian Watchdog

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Australia's consumer watchdog has accused technology giant Google of misleading account holders over how much of their personal data was being collected and how it would be used. 

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission started legal proceedings against Google on Monday. A claim filed in Australia's Federal Court alleges Google misled millions of Australians to obtain their consent to gather additional personal data.

The ACCC claims that Google wanted the extra data concerning users' internet activity to target advertising but neglected to obtain the consent necessary to collect it. 

"We allege that Google did not obtain explicit consent from customers to take this step,” said Rod Sims, the commission’s chair, in a statement.

“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."

The allegations stem from a decision made by Google in 2016 to start combining users’ personal information in their Google accounts with information from their activity on non-Google sites powered by specific Google ad technology. Formerly known as DoubleClick, the technology is used to display ads.

Sims said: "We are taking this action because we consider Google misled Australian consumers about what it planned to do with large amounts of their personal information, including internet activity on websites not connected to Google.

"Google significantly increased the scope of information it collected about consumers on a personally identifiable basis. This included potentially very sensitive and private information about their activities on third-party websites."

Google told ABC news that it had cooperated with the ACCC's investigation into the alleged privacy breach. The company said that consent had for the data collection had been sought from Google account holders “via prominent and easy-to-understand notifications.”

A Google statement issued in response to the ACCC's claims said: “We strongly disagree with their allegations and intend to defend our position."

The Federal Court case is the second to be launched by the ACCC against Google. An earlier case, filed when the commission uncovered that Android users did not realize a two-step process was needed to block Google from collecting location data from their devices, is due to be heard on November 30.

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