Google Location Tracking, Faces Europe Probe


Google Location Tracking

A formal investigation into Google location tracking has eventually begun as a result of its location data processing, following several complaints received from consumer rights groups across Europe, however, the continent’s data regulator has finally given it its response.

This comes as the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) publicized the probe days ago, and in its announcement, it stated that: “The issues raised within the concerns related to the legality of Google’s processing of location data and the transparency surrounding that processing”.

As such, the DPC has commenced an own-volition Statutory Inquiry, with respect to Google Ireland Limited, pursuant to Section 110 of the Data Protection 2018 and in accordance with the co-operation mechanism outlined under Article 60 of the GDPR. The Inquiry will set out to establish whether Google has a valid legal basis for processing the location data of its users and whether it meets its obligations as a data controller with regard to transparency”.

Meanwhile, the body also made it clear that it has reached out to Google, stating that, “People should be able to understand and control how companies like Google use location data to provide services to them. We will cooperate fully with the office of the Data Protection Commission in its inquiry, and continue to work closely with regulators and consumer associations across Europe. In the last year, we have made a number of product changes to improve the level of user transparency and control over location data”.

Responding to concerns over Google location tracking, an umbrella for European consumer rights groups, BEUC said the complaints about “deceptive” location tracking were filed back in November 2018, which was months after the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was enforced. The body is however concerned about how the Android giant gathers information about the places people visit, which could potentially provide private companies (like Google) the “power to draw conclusions about our personality, sexual orientation, religion, which can be deeply personal traits”.

The whole situation has become worrisome, is that it’s taken the Data Processing Commission too long to process the complaints and come out with what is required for a formal investigation. Therefore, the complaints have argued that consent to “share” users’ location data is not valid under European Union law based on the fact that it is freely given. An express statement of consent is a legal basis for processing personal data under the GDPR, but has tricked consumers into accepting “privacy-intrusive settings”.

In the same vein, BECU’s Director General ‘Monique Goyens’ on behalf of the consumers said:

Consumers should not be under commercial surveillance. They need authorities to defend them and to sanction those who break the law. Considering the scale of the problem, which affects millions of European consumers, this investigation should be a priority for the Irish data protection authority. As more than 14 months have passed since consumer groups first filed complaints about Google’s malpractice, it would be unacceptable for consumers who trust authorities if there were further delays. The credibility of the enforcement of the GDPR is at stake here”.

To respect the rights of BEUC members, according to a press release which states that, “European consumers have been the victim of these practice for far too long”. While at the moment, BEUC expects DPC to investigate Google’s practices at the time of our complaints, and not at the time the body initialized the process.

In another dimension, questions have been raised about how Ireland’s judiciary system would cope with so many cases.

On the other hand, there is the issue with the Irish Data Processing Commission which has been faced with criticism over the length of time spent to reach decisions on extant GDPR investigation. Should the EU deploy similar measures deployed by the French data watchdog? Google should expect a huge fine.

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