Google’s personal data use cleared by Federal Court, ACCC to pay legal fees

The Australian Federal Court has dismissed a case against Google where the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleged the company misled users over changes to its privacy policy.

Launched back in 2020, the ACCC’s case against Google hinged on allegations to do with informed consent. Australia’s consumer watchdog believed that Google misled users about changes made in 2016 to combine personal information from consumers with their activity across non-Google sites. There were also allegations regarding related changes to Google’s privacy policy.

Here’s what the ACCC said in July 2020:

The ACCC alleges Google misled consumers when it failed to properly inform consumers, and did not gain their explicit informed consent, about its move in 2016 to start combining personal information in consumers’ Google accounts with information about those individuals’ activities on non-Google sites that used Google technology, formerly DoubleClick technology, to display ads.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

They also alleged Google used these changes to “improve the commercial performance of its advertising businesses”.

Why did ACCC pursue the case?

According to the ACCC, between June 2016 and December 2018, Google provided users with a pop-up notification accompanied by an “I agree” prompt with the following text:

“Some new features for your Google Account

We’ve introduced some optional features for your account, giving you more control over the data Google collects and how it’s used, while allowing Google to show you more relevant ads.

A core part of the case, the ACCC argued that the notification was misleading because consumers may not have fully understood the changes Google was making.

“We believe that many consumers, if given an informed choice, may have refused Google permission to combine and use such a wide array of their personal information for Google’s own financial benefit,” former ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

However, late last week, the Federal Court dismissed the case, finding that Google did not mislead Australian consumers throughout this process. Upon delivering his verdict, Justice David Yates instructed the ACCC to pay Google’s legal costs.

In a media release following the dismissal, it was noted that “Google did not reduce account holders’ rights under the privacy policy”. ACCC Acting Chair Delia Rickard said the Commission “will now carefully consider the judgement”.

Google and the ACCC have a history, with the Federal Court previously finding that Google partially misled consumers about location data on Android devices between January 2017 and December 2018.

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