Big Tech has been caught violating user privacy once again.
French privacy watchdog Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) announced in a statement on Thursday that it has charged tech giants Amazon and Google with massive fines for violating Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act.
Google, which has been charged with 3 offences, is supposed to pay 100 million euros (roughly $121 million), whereas Amazon’s penalty is 35 million euros ($42 million) for violating 2 provisions. Out of 100 million euros, the restricted committee imposed a penalty of 60 million euros on GOOGLE LLC and another 40 million euros on GOOGLE IRELAND LIMITED.
Article 82 mostly deals with tracking cookies and informed customer consent for the same. According to CNIL’s investigations, it was found that both Amazon and Google had been placing tracking cookies in users’ browsers without first obtaining their consent. Additionally, users weren’t being provided with the appropriate information regarding how to disable or control cookie settings.
Furthermore, Google was also caught tracking the browsing acitivty of users who had disabled ad personalization, a direct violation of the purpose behind selecting non-personalized advertisements.
Google and Amazon in Disagreement with CNIL’s Verdict
Both companies spoke out in their defence against CNIL’s allegations. Both cited customer privacy as a pressing priority for their respective businesses and expressed their dedication by pointing to the constant privacy updates they roll out.
“Protecting the privacy of our customers has always been a top priority for Amazon,” an Amazon spokesperson said. on the other hand, Google’s spokesperson asserted “we stand by our record of providing upfront information and clear controls, strong internal data governance, secure infrastructure, and above all, helpful products.”
Google’s spokesperson further went on to criticize French privacy laws for being volatile and “constantly evolving”, accusing the CNIL for overlooking Google’s efforts at strengthening its privacy policies.
But do these companies really value user privacy as much as they claim to? Past patters suggest otherwise.
Multiple Data Privacy Controversies
It’s no secret that tech giants are constantly monitored and called out by privacy watchdogs and whistleblowers. As technology’s penetration in daily lives has increased, so has its encroachment on user privacy. Google and Amazon in particular, along with Facebook, have particularly bad reputations.
In 2019, the CNIL had fined Google for not providing adequate information to users regarding the collection of their data. Google was also found buying third party data from an Avast subsidiary in the same year. Currently, the company is in a legal feud with its own employees for spying on them for speaking up against collaborations with an anti-union firm.
However, Google does update its policies to make them more privacy friendly. The major loophole here is that Google certainly does not do everything in its power to ensure user privacy and is still functioning largely from an advertisement revenue lens.
Similarly, Amazon is shrouded in skepticism and most users have a resigned acknowledgement of the lack of privacy that comes with using the Amazon ecosystem. With the recent launch of its online drugstore, the skepticism has only heightened.
While much cannot be said about big tech’s practices in other countries, France has had a strict track record when it comes to privacy. The CNIL has given both companies 90 days to rectify the issue found or else pay the penalty payment of 100,000 euros ($121,000) for each day of delay.