CreativeFuture: Google’s privacy transgressions continue; estimated fines exceed $6B

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In addition to its ongoing campaigns against piracy, the consumer advocacy group CreativeFuture also tracks the privacy-related activities involving major online media businesses. In June, CreativeFuture drew our attention to ongoing situations involving Google; which has been in business for 25 years now.

The most impactful may be the verdict pending in the US Department of Justice anti-trust trial over Google Search.  CreativeFuture says the outcome may have as much impact as the anti-trust action against Microsoft’s bundling of Windows with Internet Explorer, which Microsoft lost in 2000.

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CreativeFuture maintains a tally of decisions involving Google and believes that fines against the company now exceed $6 billion.

Milestones include:

  • A conclusion by the US Congress that Google (and Facebook parent Meta) improperly received taxpayer data through the use of tracking pixels, after a seven month investigation
  • U.S. Senators revealed that Google-owned YouTube may have violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting childrens’ data.
  • Google agreed in September 2023 to settle an antitrust lawsuit over the 30% commission that it charges for transactions in Google Play, its app marketplace, with all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.  The fine was $700 million, which The Verge says represents about 21 days of Google’s operating profit from its app store.
  • Also in September, Google settled a lawsuit with the State of California for leading users to believe they could prevent tracking of their movements by disabling Location History, when in fact, it collected geolocation data from users who had disabled Location History.
  • During the Google antitrust trial in November 2023, an economist disclosed that Google pays 36% of ad revenue to remain the default search engine on Apple’s Safari browser, in contrast to Google claims that it offers “the best search engine.”
  • Also in November 2023, the brand safety firm Adalytics published a 270-page report detailing how Google served ads to websites of piracy enterprises, porn distributors, and sanctioned entities based in Iran, even with ads from companies that had opted out of Google’s Search Partners Network, and even after being alerted by advertisers.

CreativeFuture also recognized further, more recent, transgressions that include hallucinations by Google’s AI platform that generated offensive images and nonsensical prose; fines for copyright violations by France, and cover-ups of security breaches  in the state of Rhode Island that affected the state’s government employees.

Further reading

Still ‘Being Evil’ at 25: Updating the Google Timeline of Scandal and Strife.  Article. June 12, 2024. CreativeFuture

Why it matters

The CreativeFuture update covers what it characterizes as “Google’s latest offenses against privacy, copyright, and decency.”

Image source: CreativeFuture

Issues surrounding privacy are a first-cousin to concerns over piracy, as attacks enabled by piracy begin with data that falls into the wrong hands; and Google maintains one of the world’s largest  data repositories.  Research published in 2021 by the Digital Citizens Alliance detailed how stolen advertising finds its way through Google, which constituted 38% of all ads in piracy apps.

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