Google Fined $57 Million for Privacy Violations, but Google Appeals

France’s privacy watchdog has issued a fine worth about $57 million for privacy violations. In response, Google has appealed the fine.

It’s being hailed by some as the first major fine handed out through Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws. France’s privacy watchdog has handed down a fine against Google’s parent company Alphabet for privacy violations. The fine works out to about $57 million. It’s considered the largest privacy related fine levied against the company to date.

From Reuters:

The French regulator said the world’s biggest search engine lacked transparency and clarity in the way it informs users about its handling of personal data and failed to properly obtain their consent for personalized ads.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the biggest shake-up of data privacy laws in more than two decades, came into force in May. It allows users to better control their personal data and gives regulators the power to impose fines of up to 4 percent of global revenue for violations.

“The amount decided, and the publicity of the fine, are justified by the severity of the infringements observed regarding the essential principles of the GDPR: transparency, information and consent,” the CNIL said in a statement.

For it’s part, Alphabet isn’t going to just allow the fine to stand without a fight. In response to the development, the company says it intends on appealing the fine. From CNet:

GDPR incorporates a bunch of different rules, but one section focuses on greater transparency for users about how their data is used and who it’s shared with. GDPR also requires companies to make this information easy to find and understand in an effort to demystify the privacy agreements that users are often required to click on before they can use online services.

It’s these rules in particular that the French regulator found Google guilty of breaking, but the company is contesting the decision.

“We’ve worked hard to create a GDPR consent process for personalised ads that is as transparent and straightforward as possible, based on regulatory guidance and user experience testing,” said a Google spokesman in a statement. “We’re also concerned about the impact of this ruling on publishers, original content creators and tech companies in Europe and beyond. For all these reasons, we’ve now decided to appeal.”

Google is no stranger to fines under EU laws. It’s currently awaiting the outcome of yet another antitrust investigation — after already being slapped with a $5 billion fine last year for anticompetitive Android practices and a $2.7 billion fine in 2017 over Google Shopping. The latest fine might be a fraction of those penalties, but is currently the largest fine issued so far for GDPR violations.

The GDPR laws came into force last June. At the time, many knew that the much more stringent fines laid out would have a major impact on online companies. European privacy organizations hailed the new laws as launching a new era for respect for privacy.

Of course, just because the laws were put in place at the time doesn’t mean that fines would balloon overnight. The laws aren’t retroactive, so if a breach or leak happened beforehand, then any fines levied against companies would fall under the old rules prior to the laws coming into force. Still, as we said on numerous occasions, it would only be a matter of time before fines levied against companies work their way through the system.

With this latest fine, it is very likely only the beginning of blockbuster fines to come. As we’ve documented over the year since, there have been numerous leaks and breaches since then. So, it really was only a matter of time before GDPR related fines started making their way into the news.

It’s really not a surprise that Google would appeal. One reason is that no company would really want to be the first to get slapped with the fine under the new law. This is because the fine would be much more memorable than others that follow suit. From a PR standpoint, this could make Google take a significant hit to its reputation. The only silver lining that we see here is the fact that Google won’t be the only major company to be fined.

With more potential fines against other companies working their way through the pipeline, we can only expect more fireworks in the future like this case.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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