Google has come under fire over allegations of contravening Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when it tracks its users’ locations.
A group of seven European consumer organisations in the Netherlands, Poland, Greece, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and Czech Republic have filed complaints against the internet giant with their national data protection authorities, accusing it of forcing users to use its location tracking.
The complaints are based on new research published by Forbrukerradet, a member of European consumer organisation BEUC.
In a statement, the coalition alleged Google employed “deceptive practices” to get users to turn on its various tracking systems, and that consent was not being given freely.
It also claimed Google did not provide “straightforward information” about what surrendering the data really entailed, and “leaves consumers in the dark about the use of their personal data.
“Location data can reveal a lot about people, including religious beliefs (going to places of worship), political leanings (going to demonstrations), health conditions (regular hospital visits) and sexual orientation (visiting certain bars),” the statement added.
Gro Mette Moen, acting head of unit, digital services in the Norwegian Consumer Council, says Google is processing highly detailed and comprehensive personal data without proper legal grounds, and is acquiring that data through manipulation techniques.
He added that Google records where users go, and how they move, and this data can be combined with other information, such as what users search for, and the Web sites they visit.
“Such information can in turn be used for things such as targeted advertising meant to affect us when we are receptive or vulnerable.”
Google tracks its users through “Location History” as well as “Web & App Activity”, settings that are integrated into all Google accounts. For those who use Android smartphones, including Samsung and Huawei phones, tracking is especially difficult to avoid.
A detailed report said there are several ways Google tricks its users into sharing their location.
Firstly, this is done through deceptive click-flow, which, when setting up an Android device, pushes users into enabling “Location History” without being aware of it. This contravenes the GDPR’s legal obligations to ask for informed and freely given consent.
Next, default settings for “Web & App Activity” are hidden behind extra clicks and enabled by default.
Google also gives misleading and unbalanced information, the group claims, as users are given insufficient information when presented with choices, and are misled about the data that is being collected and how it is used. For example, information on how location data is being used for advertising is obfuscated behind extra clicks.
Source: The Nation