Google has been under scrutiny for its questionable data collection and advertising practices in recent times. Google has been previously hit by three antitrust fines by the EU, with a total antitrust bill amount of around $9.3 billion, till date. Today, more than 40 state attorney generals will launch a separate antitrust investigation targeting Google and its advertising practices.
Last week, evidence from an investigation on how Google uses secret web pages to collect user data and expose this information to targeted advertisers were submitted to the Irish Data Protection Commission, who is the main watchdog over Google in the European Union.
Also, based on an investigation launched into YouTube by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year, Google and YouTube have been fined a penalty of $170M to settle allegations that it broke federal law by collecting children’s personal information via YouTube Kids.
Over 40 State Attorneys General open up antitrust investigations into Google
The state watchdogs are initiating antitrust investigations against Silicon Valley’s largest companies, including Google and Facebook, probing whether they undermine rivals and harm consumers, according to The Washington Post. Today, more than 40 attorneys general are expected to launch a separate antitrust investigation targeting Google and its advertising practices subject to the US Supreme Court.
Details of this investigation are unknown; however, according to The Wall Street Journal, the attorneys will focus on Google’s impact on digital advertising markets.
On Friday, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James also announced that the attorneys general of eight states and the District of Columbia are launching an antitrust investigation into Facebook.
BREAKING: I’m launching an investigation into Facebook to determine whether their actions endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.
The largest social media platform in the world must follow the law.
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) September 6, 2019
Keith Ellison, attorney general from Minnesota who is signing on to the effort to probe Google, said, “The growth of these [tech] companies has outpaced our ability to regulate them in a way that enhances competition.”
We will update this space once the antitrust investigations into Google are initiated.
Irish DPC to investigate whether Google secretly feeds users’ data to advertisers
An investigation done by Johnny Ryan, chief policy officer for the web browser, Brave, revealed that Google used hidden secret web pages to collect user data and create profiles exposing users personal information to targeted advertisers.
In May the DPC opened an investigation into Google’s Authorized Buyers real-time bidding (RTB) ad exchange. This exchange connects ad buyers with millions of websites selling their inventory.
Ryan filed a GDPR complaint in Ireland over Google’s RTB system in 2018, arguing that Google and ad companies expose personal data during RTB bid requests on sites that use Google’s behavioral advertising.
In his recent evidence, Ryan discovered the secret web pages when he monitored the trading of his personal data on Google’s ad exchange, Authorized Buyers. He found that Google “had labelled him with an identifying tracker that it fed to third-party companies that logged on to a hidden web page. The page showed no content but had a unique address that linked it to Mr Ryan’s browsing activity,” The Financial Times reports.
Google allowed the advertisers to combine information about him through hidden “push” pages, which are not visible to web users and could lead to them more easily identifying people online, the Telegraph said. “This constant leaking of personal data, that seems to be happening constantly, needs to be urgently addressed by regulators,” Ryan told the Telegraph.
He said that “the data compiled by users can then be shared by companies without Google’s knowledge, allowing them to more easily build and keep virtual profiles of Google’s users without their consent,” the Telegraph further reported.
To know about this story, read our detailed coverage of Brave’s findings: “Google is circumventing GDPR, reveals Brave’s investigation for the Authorized Buyers ad business case”.
FTC scrutiny leads to Google and YouTube paying $170 million penalty for violating Children’s online privacy
In June this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched an investigation into YouTube over mishandling children’s private data. The investigation was triggered by complaints from children’s health and privacy groups, which said, YouTube improperly collected data from kids using the video service, thus violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a 1998 law known as COPPA that forbids the tracking and targeting of users younger than age 13.
On September 4, the FTC said that YouTube, and its parent company, Google will pay a penalty of $170 million to settle allegations. YouTube said in a statement on Wednesday last week that in four months it would begin treating all data collected from people watching children’s content as if it came from a child. “This means that we will limit data collection and use on videos made for kids only to what is needed to support the operation of the service,” YouTube said on its blog.
FTC Chairman Joe Simons said, “No other company in America is subject to these types of requirements and they will impose significant costs on YouTube.” According to Reuters, “FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection director Andrew Smith told reporters that the $170 million settlement was based on revenues from data collected, times a multiplier.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “Google and YouTube knowingly and illegally monitored, tracked, and served targeted ads to young children just to keep advertising dollars rolling in.”
In a separate statement, Simons and FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson said the settlement will require Google and YouTube to create a system “through which content creators must self-designate if they are child-directed. This obligation exceeds what any third party in the marketplace currently is required to do.”
To know more about this news in detail, read FTC and New York Attorney General’s statement.