Tag: cookies

CNIL fines Google and Amazon

10. December 2020

The French Data Protection Authority Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertès – “CNIL” – announced that it has fined the big tech companies Google and Amazon due to violations of the GDPR and the French Data Protection Act.

Regarding Google CNIL announced financial penalties of an combined record breaking amount of € 100 million. € 60 million are against Google LLC, the US-based mother company, and € 40 million against Google Ireland Limited, the Irish daughter company. According to the statement of CNIL the fines are based on violations regarding the Cookie requirements on the website google.fr. Due to an online investigation, conducted on March 16th, 2020, CNIL considers it as proven that Google “placed advertising cookies on the computers of users of the search engine google.fr, without obtaining prior consent and without providing adequate information”.

Besides the findings on Cookies, CNIL also critizes a lack of information on the processed personal data and a partial failure of the opposition mechanism.

The high amount of the financial penalties is justified with the seriousness of the violation, the high amount of concerned data subjects and the significant profits of the companies arising of the advertisements.

CNIL also considers the fact, that this procedure is no longer in place since an update in September 2020, because the newly implemented banner does not allow to understand the purposes for which the cookies are used and does not let the data subject know that they can refuse the coolies.

This is already the second, financial penalty CNIL imposes against Google.

Also for violations in connection with cookies CNIL fines Amazon Europe Core a financial penalty of € 35 million. The accusation is the same as with Google and based on several investigations conducted between December 12th, 2019 and May 19th, 2020. CNIL found out, that when a user visited the website, cookies were automatically placed on his or her computer, without any action required on the users part. Several of these cookies were used for advertising purposes. Also a lack of information has been conducted.

The high amount of the financial penalties is in all cases justified with the seriousness of the violation, the high amount of concerned data subjects and the significant profits of the companies arising of the advertisements.

Belgian DPA planning to suspend websites that infringe GDPR

8. December 2020

The Belgian Data Protection Authority (DPA) signed a Cooperation Agreement on November 26, 2020, with DNS Belgium, the organization behind the management of the “.be” country-code domain name. The background is to allow DNS Belgium to suspend “.be” websites that are infringing the GDPR. The Agreement builds up a two-tier cooperation system, which aims at identifying infringements and suspending the websites if no action is taken.

The first step is a cooperative investigation, for which DNS Belgium has to support the Belgian DPA by providing all information necessary for the investigation.

The second step is the “Notice and Action” procedure, during which, if the Belgian DPA’s Investigation Service considers a data processing activity conducted via a website with a “.be” domain name to infringe one of the data protection principles under the GDPR, and the responsible data controller or data processor does not comply with the DPA’s order to suspend, limit, freeze or end the data processing activity, the Investigation Service is authorized to send a “Notice and Action” notification to DNS Belgium. Once DNS Belgium receives the “Notice and Action” notification, they will proceed to inform the website owner about the infringement and re-direct the relevant domain name to a warning page of the Belgian DPA.

The website owner can take remedial measures within 14 days to remedy the infringement, upon which he can indicate it to the Belgian DPA. If the Belgian DPA does not contest the measures taken, the relevant domain name will be restored. However, if the infringement is not remediated during the 14-day period, the website will continuously to be re-directed to the Belgian DPA’s warning page for a period of six months. After this time the website will be cancelled and placed in quarantine for 40 days before becoming available for registration once again.

Due to the heavy penalty in cases of a controller not taking any action to remedy the infringement, this action by the Belgian DPA is only possible in cases of infringements that cause very serious harm and are committed by natural or legal persons who deliberately infringe the law, or continue a data processing activity despite a prior order by the Investigation Service of the Belgian DPA to suspend, limit, freeze or end the processing activity.

It is to note that the Inspector General of the Belgian DPA can provide extra time to a website owner to comply with the relevant data protection requirements at the Inspector General’s discretion. However, this will depend on a case by case basis and on the cooperation of the website owner.

Privacy Activist Schrems unleashes 101 Complaints

21. September 2020

Lawyer and privacy activist Maximilian Schrems has become known for his legal actions leading to the invalidation of “Safe Harbor” in 2015 and of the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield” this year (we reported). Following the landmark court decision on the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield”, Schrems recently announced on the website of his NGO “noyb” (non-of-your-business) that he has filed 101 complaints against 101 European companies in 30 different EU and EEA countries with the responsible Data Protection Authorities. Schrems exercised the right to lodge a complaint with the supervisory authority that every data subject has if he or she considers that the processing of personal data relating to him or her infringes the Regulation, pursuant to Art. 77 GDPR.

The complaints concern the companies’ continued use of Google Analytics and Facebook Connect that transfer personal data about each website visitor (at least IP-address and Cookie data) to Google and Facebook which reside in the United States and fall under U.S. surveillance laws, such as FISA 702. Schrems also published a list of the 101 companies which include Sky Deutschland, the University of Luxembourg and the Cyprus Football Association. With his symbolic action against 101 companies, Schrems wanted to point to the widespread inactivity among many companies that still do not take the data protection rights of individuals seriously despite the recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

In response, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) has set up a “task force” to handle complaints against European companies using Google Analytics and Facebook services. The taskforce shall analyse the matter and ensure a close cooperation among the members of the Board which consists of all European supervisory authorities as well as the European Data Protection Supervisor.

France’s supreme court, the Conseil d’État, restricts the CNIL’s Cookie Guidelines

22. June 2020

On June 19th, 2020, the French Conseil d’État has ordered the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) in a court decision to dismiss particular provisions made in its Guidelines on the subject of cookies and other tracers, which it published in 2019.

The Conseil d’État has received several complaints by businesses and professional associations, who turned to the supreme court in order to have the CNIL’s Guidelines refuted.

The main focus of the decision was the ban on cookie walls. Cookie walls are cookie consent pages which, upon declining consent to the processing of the cookies used for the website, deny the user access to the website. In their Guideline on cookies and other tracers from 2019, the CNIL had declared that such cookie walls were not in accordance with the principles of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), causing a lot of businesses to appeal such a provision in front of the Conseil d’État.

In their decision on the matter, the Conseil d’État has declared that the CNIL, as only having suggestive and recommendatory competence in data protection matters, did not have the competence to issue a ban on cookie walls in the Guidelines. The Conseil d’État focused on the fact that the CNIL’s competence was only recommendatory, and did not have the finality to issue such a provision.

However, in its decision, the supreme court did not put to question whether the ban of cookie walls was in itself lawful or not. The Conseil d’État refrained from giving any substantive statement on the matter, leaving that question unanswered for the moment.

The Conseil d’État has further stated in its decision that in the case of the ability of data subjects to give their consent to processing activities, it is indeed necessary, in order to form free and informed consent, that the data subject is informed individually about each processing activity and its purpose before giving consent. However, business have the margin to decide if they collect the data subject’s consent througha one time, global consent with specifically individualized privacy policies, or over individual consent for each processing activity.

In the rest of its decision, the Conseil d’État has confirmed the remainder of the CNIL’s guidelines and provision on the matter as being lawful and applicable, giving the complainants only limited reason to rejoice.

Belgian DPA releases Guidance and FAQs on Cookies and Trackers

23. April 2020

On Thursday, April 9th 2020, the Belgian Data Protection Authority (Belgian DPA) has issued a guidance along with frequently asked question on the subject of cookies and other tracking technologies.

The key points presented by the guidance revolve around the definitions of cookies, what needs to be presented in a cookie policy, how the consent of data subjects needs to be obtained and which requirements it needs to fulfill, as well as the storage period of a cookie on a user’s device.

The Belgian DPA made it clear that of the utmost importance is the transparency of the cookie usage. That entails that the users need to be informed about the scope of each individual cookie used. This should be done through a cookie policy on the website. The cookie policy needs to be written in a language the targeted users of the website can understand, as well as be easily accessible, e.g. through a hyperlink.

Specifically, these cookie policies need to include and inform about:

  • identification of the cookies used;
  • their purposes and duration;
  • whether third-parties have access to such cookies;
  • information about how to delete cookies;
  • the legal basis relied upon for the use of cookies;
  • information about individuals’ data protection rights and the ability to lodge a complaint to the competent data protection authority;
  • information about any automated decision making, including profiling.

In order to be able to use cookies, the consent of the user needs to be obtained. The Belgian DPA stated in their guidance that the consent has to be obtained for the use of all non-essential cookies, which means all cookies that are not necessary for a user requested function of the website. A necessary cookie would be, for example, the cookie to remember the item in a user’s cart, or cookies that enable booking communication with a user.

The consent especially needs to be:

  • obtained for the use of all non-essential cookies, as well as all social media plugins;
  • informed, specifically, prior to giving their consent to the use of cookies, users must be provided with information regarding the use of cookies: The information that needs to be given to the data subjects are the entity responsible for the use of cookies, the cookies’ purposes,  the data collected through the use of cookies, and their expiration. Users must also be informed about their rights with respect to cookies, including the right to withdraw their consent;
  • granulated, whereas in a first instance, users need to decide between what types of cookies they want to give consent to, and in a second instance, users can decide exactly which cookies they want to give consent to;
  • unambiguous and provided through a clear affirmative action.

Further, it is also important to keep in mind that the Belgian DPA has confirmed that cookie walls are unlawful, and that companies must show proof of obtained consent through keeping logs.

The Belgian DPA has also given guidance on the lifespan of cookies. Cookies should not have unlimited lifespans, but rather follow basic data protection rules: once a cookie is no longer necessary for the purpose or it has fulfilled its determined purpose, it needs to be removed. If the cookie cannot be deleted from the controller’s side, it is important to give the users the information on how to do it themselves.

Overall, the Belgian DPA’s guidance has given controllers a clear way to maneuvering their cookie usage, and has provided a new list of FAQs in case of further questions. In this regard, the Belgian DPA has made sure that cookies and their use are easy to comprehend and handle, hopefully helping data protection compliance within the subject.

CNIL announces focus for Control Procedures in 2020

16. March 2020

The french Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) has announced their focus in regards to the Control Procedures they intend to take in 2020.

Out of 300 Control Procedures done in one year, in 2020 at least 50 of those are going to be focused on three prioritized themes: health data security, geolocation and cookies compliance. The CNIL decided on prioritizing these areas because of the high relevance all of them have on the daily life of the french citizens.

Especially in regards to health data because of the sensitive nature of the data collected, as well as geological data, due to the never ending new solutions to transportation or enhancements to daily life, it is important to keep an eye on the scope of the data processing and the private sphere which is affected.

Regarding cookies and other tracers, CNIL continues to underline the importance in regards to profiled advertisement. On top of the planned Control Procedures, the CNIL intends to publish a recommendation in the spring of 2020 with regards to cookies. It will keep an eye on the implementation of the recommendation, and give companies a 6 months period to adjust and implement them.

The CNIL also stated that in addition they will continue to work together with other national Data Protection Authorities, in order to ensure the regulation of transnational data processing.

Greek Data Protection Authority releases Guidance on Cookies

On 25 February 2020, the Hellenic Data Protection Authority (DPA) published a guidance on Cookies and other tracking tools. Previously, the Authority had found that Greek websites and service providers have been largely failing to comply with the rules on the use of Cookies and other trackers set out by the ePrivacy Directive and the GDPR, and reaffirmed by the European Court of Justice’s ruling on Planet 49.

The guidance states that it will be relevant to HTTP/S Cookies, Flash Cookies, local storage applying to HTML 5, device fingerprinting, OS identifiers, and material identifiers.

The Greek DPA reiterated that, generally, providers are obliged to obtain the user’s consent if they are using any tracking tools – irrespective of whether the processing of personal data is taking place. It also outlined that technically necessary trackers are exempt from the obligation to consent. Furthermore, the guidance goes into detail on how information and consent can be made available on websites specifically.

Lastly, the Authority has given Greek website providers a grace period of two months to implement the provisions of this guidance and thereby become compliant with the European rules on tracking tools.

CNIL publishes recommendations on how to get users’ cookie consent

21. January 2020

On 14 January 2020, the French data protection authority (“CNIL”) published recommendations on practical modalities for obtaining the consent of users to store or read non-essential cookies and similar technologies on their devices. In addition, the CNIL also published a series of questions and answers on the recommendations.

The purpose of the recommendations is to help private and public organisations to implement the CNIL guidelines on cookies and similar technologies dated 4 July 2019. To this end, CNIL describes the practical arrangements for obtaining users’ consent, gives concrete examples of the user interface to obtain consent and presents “best practices” that also go beyond the rules.

In order to find pragmatic and privacy-friendly solutions, CNIL consulted with organisations representing industries in the ad tech ecosystem and civil society organisations in advance and discussed the issue with them. The recommendations are neither binding or prescriptive nor exhaustive. Organisations may use other methods to obtain user consent, as long as these methods are in accordance with the guidelines.

Among the most important recommendations are:

Information about the purpose of cookies
First, the purposes of the cookies should be listed. The recommendations contain examples of this brief description for the following purposes or types of cookies:
(1) targeted or personalised advertising;
(2) non-personalized advertising;
(3) personalised advertising based on precise geolocation;
(4) customization of content or products and services provided by the Web Publisher;
(5) social media sharing;
(6) audience measurement/analysis.
In addition, the list of purposes should be complemented by a more detailed description of these purposes, which should be directly accessible, e.g. via a drop-down button or hyperlink.

Information on the data controllers
An exhaustive list of data controllers should be directly accessible, e.g. via a drop-down button or hyperlink. When users click on this hyperlink or button, they should receive specific information on data controllers (name and link to their privacy policy). However, web publishers do not have to list all third parties that use cookies on their website or application, but only those who are also data controllers. Therefore, the role of the parties (data controller, joint data controller, or data processor) has to be assessed individually for each cookie. This list should be regularly updated and should be permanently accessible (e.g. through the cookie consent mechanism, which would be available via a static icon or hyperlink at the bottom of each web page). Should a “substantial” addition be made to the list of data controllers, users’ consent should be sought again.

Real choice between accepting or rejecting cookies
Users must be offered a real choice between accepting or rejecting cookies. This can be done by means of two (not pre-ticked) checkboxes or buttons (“accept” / “reject”, “allow” / “deny”, etc.) or equivalent elements such as “on”/”off” sliders, which should be disabled by default. These checkboxes, buttons or sliders should have the same format and be presented at the same level. Users should have such a choice for each type or category of cookie.

The ability for users to delay this selection
A “cross” button should be included so that users can close the consent interface and do not have to make a choice. If the user closes the interface, no consent cookies should be set. However, consent could be obtained again until the user makes a choice and accepts or rejects cookies.

Overall consent for multiple sites
It is acceptable to obtain user consent for a group of sites rather than individually for each site. However, this requires that users are informed of the exact scope of their consent (i.e., by providing them with a list of sites to which their consent applies) and that they have the ability to refuse all cookies on those sites altogether (e.g., if there is a “refuse all” button along with an “accept all” button). To this end, the examples given in the recommendations include three buttons: “Personalize My Choice” (where users can make a more precise selection based on the purpose or type of cookies), “Reject All” and “Accept All”.

Duration of validity of the consent
It is recommended that users re-submit their consent at regular intervals. CNIL considers a period of 6 months to be appropriate.

Proof of consent
Data controllers should be able to provide individual proof of users’ consent and to demonstrate that their consent mechanism allows a valid consent to be obtained.

The recommendations are open for public consultation until 25 February 2020. A new version of the recommendations will then be submitted to the members of CNIL for adoption during a plenary session. CNIL will carry out enforcement inspections six months after the adoption of the recommendations. The final recommendations may also be updated and completed over time to take account of new technological developments and the responses to the questions raised by professionals and individuals on this subject.

Dutch DPA issued a statement regarding cookie consent

12. December 2019

The Dutch Data Protection Authority (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens) has recently issued a statement regarding compliance with the rules on cookie consent. According to the statement the DPA has reviewed 175 websites and e-commerce platforms to see if they meet the requirements for the use of cookies. They found that almost half of the websites and nearly all e-commerce platforms do not meet the requirements for cookie consent.

The data protection authority has contacted the companies concerned and requested them to adjust their cookie usage.

In its statement, the Data Protection Authority also refers to the “Planet49case” of the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) and clarifies that boxes that have already been clicked do not comply with the obligation to obtain the user’s consent. In addition, it is not equivalent to obtaining consent to the use of cookies if the user merely scrolls down the website. Cookies, which enable websites to track their users, always require explicit consent.

Lastly, the DPA recalls that cookie walls that prevent users, who have not consented to the use of cookies from accessing the website are not permitted.

Category: EU · GDPR · The Netherlands
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CJEU rules pre-checked Cookie consent invalid

2. October 2019

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on Tuesday, October 1rst, that storing Cookies on internet users’ devices requires active consent. This decision concerns the implementation of widely spread pre-checked boxes, which has been decided to be insufficient to fulfill the requirements of a lawful consent under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The case to be decided concerned a lottery for advertizing purposes initiated by Planet49 GmbH. During the participation process internet users were confronted with two information texts and corresponding checkboxes. Within the first information text the users were asked to agree to be contacted by other companies for promotional offers, by ticking the respective checkbox. The second information text required the user to consent to the installation of Cookies on their devices, while the respective checkbox had already been pre-checked. Therefore users would have needed to uncheck the checkbox if they did not agree to give their consent accordingly (Opt-out).

The Federal Court of Justice in Germany raised and referred their questions to the CJEU regarding whether such a process of obtaining consent could be lawful under the relevant EU jurisprudence, in particular whether valid consent could have been obtained for the storage of information and Cookies on users devices, in case of such mechanisms.

Answering the questions, the CJEU decided, referring to the relevant provisions of Directive 95/46 and the GDPR that require an active behaviour of the user, that pre-ticked boxes cannot constitute a valid consent. Furthermore, in a statement following the decision, the CJEU clarified that consent must be specific, and that users should be informed about the storage period of the Cookies, as well as about third parties accessing users’ information. The Court also said that the “decision is unaffected by whether or not the information stored or accessed on the user’s equipment is personal data.”

In consequence of the decision, it is very likely that at least half of all websites that fall into the scope of the GDPR will need to consider adjustments of their Cookie Banners and, if applicable, procedures for obtaining consent with regard to performance-related and marketing and advertising Cookies in order to comply with the CJEU’s view on how to handle Cookie usage under the current data protection law.

Cookies, in general, are small files which are sent to and stored in the browser of a terminal device as part of the website user’s visit on a website. In case of performance-related and marketing and advertising Cookies, the website provider can then access the information that such Cookies collected about the user when visiting the website on a further occasion, in order to, e.g., facilitate navigation on the internet or transactions, or to collect information about user behaviour.

Following the new CJEU decision, there are multiple possibilities to ensure a GDPR compliant way to receive users’ active consent. In any case it is absolutely necessary to give the user the possibility of actively checking the boxes themselves. This means that pre-ticked boxes are no longer a possibility.

In regard to the obligation of the website controller to provide the user with particular information about the storage period and third party access, a possible way would be to include a passage about Cookie information within the website’s Privacy Policy. Another would be to include all the necessary information under a seperate tab on the website containing a Cookie Policy. Furthermore, this information needs to be easily accessible by the user prior to giving consent, either by including the information directly within the Cookie Banner or by providing a link therein.

As there are various different options depending on the types of the used Cookies, and due to the clarification made by the CJEU, it is recommended to review the Cookie activities on websites and the corresponding procedures of informing about those activities and obtaining consent via the Cookie Banner.

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