By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS -Google has been targeted by a French consumer group and its peers in complaints to privacy watchdogs over its vast trove of users’ personal data harvested via their Google accounts, European consumer organisation BEUC said on Thursday.
In addition to the French consumer group, others in Greece, the Czech Republic, Norway and Slovenia have taken their complaints to their data protection authorities, BEUC said.
It said the German consumer body had sent a letter to Google, a unit of Alphabet, that could lead to a civil lawsuit, while consumer agencies in the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden have written to their privacy regulators alerting them about Google’s practices.
BEUC said the issue was Google’s account sign-up process.
“The language Google uses at every step of the registration process is unclear, incomplete, and misleading,” the group said.
“Google also frames the more privacy-friendly options as missing out on advantages.
“This prevents the consumer from taking an informed decision when they make their choices and results in unfair, non-transparent and unlawful processing of their personal data,” it said.
Google said users can choose from different options when they open a Google account.
“These options are clearly labelled and designed to be simple to understand. We have based them on extensive research efforts and guidance from DPAs (data protection authorities) and feedback from testers. We are committed to ensuring these choices are clear and simple,” a spokesperson said.
Google, which has been fined more than 8 billion euros ($8.4 billion) by EU antitrust regulators and is the focus of two ongoing antitrust investigations, could face fines worth up to 2% of its global turnover if found guilty of breaching EU privacy rules.
Some of the agencies complained to their privacy enforcers about Google’s tracking of users four years ago but have yet to see any action taken. They aim to ramp up the pressure on regulators with their latest complaints.
($1 = 0.9534 euros)
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Mark Potter and Jason Neely)