BEUC: ‘Google collects too much data when creating a new account’

European consumer organizations are fighting and want regulators to take action against Google. They complain that the US tech company is “unclear, incomplete and misleading” when users sign up for a Google account. This is in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

That writes the European consumer umbrella organization BEUC in a press statement.

‘Google misleads users into making informed decisions’

According to BEUC, language use has important consequences for the privacy of consumers. “It unifies and personalizes the experience of Google users across all of the company’s services,” the umbrella organization said. “The account also helps monitor Google as the foundation of the digital marketplace, as many businesses rely on Google for their day-to-day operations and services.”

When creating a Google account, the tech giant does not say anything about personalized advertisements, YouTube and web & app activities and the associated account settings. Users can use this to determine the extent to which they share location data, search history and other relevant and personal information with Google.

The search engine giant also phrases it in such a way that it seems as if it concerns privacy-friendly options. And users miss out on all the benefits of a Google account if they don’t agree to it. This prevents consumers from making informed decisions when making their choices and leads to unfair, non-transparent and unlawful processing of their personal data.

‘Mix of unclear and misleading options’

The European umbrella organization states that tens of millions of European consumers are the victims of Google’s data collection practices every day. BEUC calls Google a “behemoth in the world of surveillance capitalism”. It is estimated that the internet company will cash in on an amount of 221 billion euros this year by collecting and selling personal data. That’s almost twice as much as Google’s biggest competitor, Facebook.

“Contrary to what Google claims about protecting consumer privacy, tens of millions of Europeans were put on a surveillance track when they signed up for a Google account,” said BEUC’s Ursula Pachl. Users who don’t want Google to profit from their personal data must navigate through “a mix of unclear and misleading options.” Instead of offering privacy by default and privacy by design, supervision is the default option. “Privacy protection [should] be the default and easiest choice for consumers,” Pachl says.

She continues her story: “With just one step (‘Express personalisation’), the consumer activates all the account settings that power Google’s monitoring activities. Google does not offer consumers the option to ‘disable’ all settings with one click. If consumers want to activate the more privacy-friendly options, it requires ‘manual personalization’: five steps with ten clicks and struggling with information that is unclear, incomplete and misleading. Regardless of which route the consumer chooses, Google’s data processing is opaque and unfair, using the consumer’s personal data for vague and far-reaching purposes.”

Ten consumer organizations demand action from regulators

BEUC wants national regulators to investigate Google for violating the GDPR and take action. Consumer organizations from the Czech Republic, Norway, Greece, France and Slovenia have complained to the umbrella organization about violations of European privacy legislation.

The German consumer interest group has sent a letter to Google about this, which may be the prelude to an indictment. The Consumers’ Association has complained about this to the Dutch Data Protection Authority. This also applies to the Danish, Swedish and American interest representatives.

Google willing to consult with consumer organizations

A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch that the options the company mentions when creating a Google account are “clearly labelled and designed (…) based on the guidelines of the data protection authorities”.

He emphasizes that consumer trust depends on honesty and transparency. “That’s why we’ve focused our future success on ever simpler, more accessible controls and clearer choices for people. And, just as importantly, doing more with less data.”

The spokesperson says he is looking forward to discussing this with European consumer organizations and regulators. “People need to be able to understand how data is generated from their use of internet services. If they don’t like that, they should be able to do something about it.”

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