Tag: Google

Google Play Store to require new privacy information

25. May 2021

In a blog post published on May 6th, 2021, by Suzanne Frey, VP, Product, Android Security and Privacy, Google announced a new policy that will require developers to provide more privacy and security information about their apps. These details will be made available to users in a new “safety section” in the Google Play Store starting in 2022. The announcement comes a few months after Apple began displaying similar privacy information in their App Store.

The new “safety section” will require Android app developers to explain what kind of data is collected by their apps. For example, whether the app collects personal information, such as name, username or email and whether it collects information directly from the phone, such as approximate or exact location, contacts, media (photos, videos, audio files). Developers must also disclose how the app uses the data. For example, to improve app functionality and personalization. The section will also include information about security features, such as encryption and compliance with Google’s policy for apps aimed at children and families.

The new policy won’t be in effect for a few months in order to give developers enough time to implement the changes. Developers can begin declaring the new information in the fourth quarter of 2021. Users will be able to see the information on Google Play starting in the first quarter of 2022, and all new and existing apps will have to declare the information starting in the second quarter of 2022.

The changes seem designed to allow app developers to better explain to customers whether they can trust an app with their data, rather than working to make apps more data-efficient.

Google plans to stop the use of cookie tracking

15. March 2021

Google announces to stop the usage of third-party cookies in its browser Google Chrome and proclaim they will not implement other similar technologies that could track individuals while surfing on the web.

Cookies are small pieces of code used on almost every website. They are automatically downloaded when a user visits a website and from then on send data from the user back to the website operator. From this data, companies can create profiles of the user and personalize advertising based on the data collected. Originally, cookies were intended to give web browsers a “memory”. With cookies, online shops save shopping carts and users can stay logged in to online sites.

In a Blogpost published on March 3rd, 2021, David Temkin, Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust at Google, announced that the next update Google Chrome in April will allow cookie tracking to be turned of completely. With Google Chrome, only so-called “first-party cookies” of the respective website operator remain permitted. The decision will have lasting consequences, as Google Chrome has been the most widely used browser since 2012. The move comes after Google’s competitors Apple and Mozilla announced similar mechanisms for their Safari and Firefox browsers (please see our blog post). Temkin writes:

Keeping the internet open and accessible for everyone requires all of us to do more to protect privacy — and that means an end to not only third-party cookies, but also any technology used for tracking individual people as they browse the web.

Since the personalized advertising based on data, and thus the tracking of the data, is Google’s core business, Google will not stop either the data collection or the personalization of the advertising. Instead of individual profiles, Google will form cohorts of people with similar interests, to which advertising will be tailored. These cohorts are said to be broad enough to preserve the anonymity of individual users. This concept is called “Federated Learning of Cohorts” (FLoC). Google Ads FLoC based advertising is said to start in the second quarter of 2021.

Data will then be collected by the browser and stored locally and not by cookies. Every URL on a website and every content accessed can then be accessed by Google targeting algorithm. Algorithms on the end device are to calculate hash values from the browser history, for example, which enable the assignment to such a cohort. Google sends a selection of ads to the browser, which selects ads that match the cohort and shows them to the user.

While third-party cookies are gradually becoming obsolete, Google is replacing them with a system that Google can completely control itself. This will make it more difficult for competitors such as Facebook Ads in the future, as they will have to rely primarily on first-party data and on data obtained from cookies in smaller browsers.

Swedish court confirms Google’s violations of the GDPR

16. December 2020

The Administrative Court of Stockholm announced on November 23rd, 2020, that it had rejected Google LLC’s appeal against the decision of the Swedish Data Protection Authority (Datainspektionen) determining Google’s violations of the GDPR. Google as a search engine operator had not fulfilled its obligations regarding the right to be forgotten (RTBF). However, the court reduced the fine from a total of SEK 75 million (approx. € 7,344,000) to SEK 52 million (approx. € 5,091,000).

Background to the case was the Swedish DPA’s audit in 2017 concerning Google’s handling of requests on delisting, which means removal of certain results from a search engine. The DPA concluded the inspection by ordering Google to delist certain individuals’ names due to inaccuracy, irrelevance and superfluous information. In 2018 the DPA initiated a follow-up audit because of indications that Google had not fully complied with the previously issued order. It resulted in issuing an administrative fine of SEK 75 million in March 2020.

The DPA raised attention to the fact that the GDPR increases the obligations of data controllers and data processors as well as strengthens the rights of individuals, which include the right to have their search result delisted. Though, Google has not been fully complying with its obligations, as it has not properly removed two of the search result listings that the DPA had ordered to delete. In one case Google has done a too narrow interpretation of what web addresses to remove, in the other case Google has failed to remove it without undue delay.

Moreover, the DPA criticized Google’s procedure of managing delisting requests and found it to be undermining data subjects’ rights. Following the removal of a search result listing, Google notifies the website to which the link is directed. The delisting request form, directed to the data subject raising the request, states that information on the removed web addresses can be provided to the webmaster. This information has to be seen as misleading since the data subject is made to understand that its consent to the notification is required in order to process the request. Therefore, such practice might result in individuals refraining from exercising their right to request delisting, which violates Art. 5 (1) lit. a) GDPR. What’s more, in the opinion of the DPA the delisting notifications to the webmasters are not covered by legal obligations according to Art. 6 (1) lit. c), 17 (2) GDPR, nor legitimate interests pursuant to Art. 6 (1) lit. f) GDPR. Also, Google’s routine of regularly sending information to webmasters constitutes processing of personal data being incompatible with the purpose for which the data was originally collected. This practice infringes Art. 5 (1) lit. b), 6 (4) GDPR.

Google appealed the decision of the DPA. Though, the Swedish Administrative Court of Stockholm reaffirmed the DPA’s opinion and confirmed Google’s violations of the GDPR.

The court stated that the process concerning delisting requests must facilitate for the individual to exercise its rights. That means, any process that restricts the individuals’ rights may violate Art. 15 through 22 GDPR. The court also specified why the personal data had been processed beyond their original purpose. Since the notifications are only sent after Google has removed a search result, the purpose of the processing has already expired when the notification is sent. Thus, the notification cannot be considered effective in achieving the purpose specified by Google.

Google shall now delist specific search results and cease to inform webmasters of requests. Also, Google must adapt its data subject rights procedure within eight weeks after the court’s judgment has gained legal force.

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.

USA: Multi-Billion Dollar Class Action lawsuit against Google

4. June 2020

Google users in the USA accuse Google of tracking their surfing behaviour even though they use the incognito mode. The complaint was filed with the federal court in San Jose, California on Tuesday, June 2nd 2020.

Background of the lawsuit is the accusation of three Google users that “Google tracks and collects users’ browsing history and other information about web activity, regardless of what measures they take to protect it”. In other words, users accuse Google of tracking their behaviour through Google Analytics, plug-ins or apps, evaluating it and using it for advertising – despite using the incognito mode.

The complaint is based on a violation of US wiretapping laws and California Privacy laws. Each plaintiff is claiming $5,000.00 in damages. Since the three plaintiffs allegedly represent thousands more plaintiffs the volume of the lawsuit could run into billions.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda denies the allegations, citing that by opening an incognito tab on Chrome, it is indicated that websites may continue to collect information about surfing behavior. The incognito mode is about the browser and the device used not storing this data. He announced that Google would take action against the accusations.

Apple and Google join forces during Corona Pandemic

17. April 2020

Apple and Google two of the biggest internet giants announced that they will partner on the development of a COVD-19 contact tracing technology.

According to a statement, both of them published on their blogs, aim of the partnership is to develop an App respectively a technical tool which should support the protection of people and to help combat the virus. Furthermore, the tracing technology should help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus.

Apple and Google want to develop a Bluetooth technology which can be used on iOS and Android devices as well as that it can be implemented in Apps of other providers via an API (Application Programming Interface) – which should be published in May.

The tracing technology, using the Bluetooth function and encryption, is designed to detect the distance between two devices in order to identify potentially vulnerable people who have been in close contact with a person tested positive for corona. Therefore, the devices should exchange temporarily ID numbers. In case, one person is tested positive he or she should change the status in the used app in order to inform all persons to which the data subject had contact in the past two weeks.

Both, Apple and Google, ensure that they take data protection requirements seriously. According to the provided information the data should firstly be stored on the respective devices and deleted automatically after two weeks. The data should only be uploaded to a server after change of status to tested positive and obtaining consent of the data subject. The exchanged ID numbers are planned to be uploaded to a list anonymously. In order to increase trust, it is planned to publish the software source codes. This would allow everyone to understand how the data is handled. In addition, this is to ensure that no data will be used for advertising purposes.

Irish Data Protection Authority investigates Google’s processing of location data

6. February 2020

The irish data protection authorty (namely The Data Protection Commission (DPC)) is, in its role as Lead Supervisory Authority, responsible for Google within the European Union.

The DPC startet a formal investigation into Google’s practices to track its user’s location and the transparency surrounding that processing.

Following a number of complaints by serveral national consumer groups all across the EU, the investigation was initiated by the DPC.  Consumer organisations argue that the consent to “share” users’ location data was not freely given and consumers were tricked into accepting privacy-intrusive settings. Such practices are not compliant with the EU’s data protection law GDPR.

The irish data protection authority will now have 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.

The investigation will add further pressure to Google. Google is facing a handful of investigations in Europe. The DPC has already opened an investigation into how Google handles data for advertising. That investigation is still ongoing. If Google is found not complying with the GDPR, the company could be forced to change its business model.

However, there are still a number of steps before the Irish DPC makes a decision including the opportunity for Google to reply.

CJEU rules that Right To Be Forgotten is only applicable in Europe

27. September 2019

In a landmark case on Tuesday the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that Google will not have to apply the General Data Privacy Regulation’s (GDPR) “Right to be Forgotten” to its search engines outside of the European Union. The ruling is a victory for Google in a case against a fine imposed by the french Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) in 2015 in an effort to force the company and other search engines to take down links globally.

Seeing as the internet has grown into a worldwide media net with no borders, this case is viewed as a test of wether people can demand a blanket removal of information about themselves from searches without overbearing on the principles of free speech and public interest. Around the world, it has also been perceived as a trial to see if the European Union can extend its laws beyond its own borders.

“The balance between right to privacy and protection of personal data, on the one hand, and the freedom of information of internet users, on the other, is likely to vary significantly around the world,” the court stated in its decision.The Court also expressed in the judgement that the protection of personal data is not an absolute right.

While this leads to companies not being forced to delete sensitive information on their search engines outside of the EU upon request, they must take precautions to seriously discourage internet users from going onto non-EU versions of their pages. Furthermore, companies with search engines within the EU will have to closely weigh freedom of speech against the protection of privacy, keeping the currently common case to case basis for deletion requests.

In effect, since the Right to be Forgotten had been first determined by the CJEU in 2014, Google has since received over 3,3 million deletion requests. In 45% of the cases it has complied with the delisting of links from its search engine. As it stands, even while complying with deletion requests, the delisted links within the EU search engines can still be accessed by using VPN and gaining access to non-EU search engines, circumventing the geoblocking. This is an issue to which a solution has not yet been found.

Google strives to reconcile advertising and privacy

27. August 2019

While other browser developers are critical of tracking, Google wants to introduce new standards to continue enabling personalized advertising. With the implementation of the “Privacy Sandbox” and the introduction of a new identity management system, the developer of the Chrome browser wants to bring browsers to an uniform level in processing of user data and protect the privacy of users more effectively.

The suggestions are the first steps of the privacy initiative announced by Google in May. Google has published five ideas. For example, browsers are to manage a “Privacy Budget” that gives websites limited access to user data so that users can be sorted into an advertising target group without being personally identified. Google also plans to set up central identity service providers that offer limited access to user data via an application programming interface (API) and inform users about the information they have passed on.

Measures like Apple’s, which have introduced Intelligent Tracking Protection, are not in Google’s interest, as Google generates much of its revenue from personalized advertising. In a blog post, Google also said that blocking cookies promotes non-transparent techniques such as fingerprinting. Moreover, without the ability to display personalized advertising, the future of publishers would be jeopardized. Their costs are covered by advertising. Recent studies have shown, that the financing of publishers decreases by an average of 52% if advertising loses relevance due to the removal of cookies.

Based on these ideas, the discussion among developers about the future of web browsers and how to deal with users’ privacy should now begin. Google’s long-term goal is a standardization process to which all major browser developers should adhere. So far, Google has had only limited success with similar initiatives.

Settlement of $13 Million for Google in Street View Privacy Case

30. July 2019

In an attempt to settle a long-running litigation of a class-action case started in 2010, Google agrees to pay $13 million over claims that it violated U.S. wire-tapping laws. The issue came from vehicles used for its Street View mapping Project that captured and collected personal data from private wifi networks along the way.

Street View is a feature that lets users interact with panoramic and detailed images of locations all around the world. The legal action began when several people whose data was collected sued Google after it admitted the cars photographing neighborhoods for Street View had also gathered emails, passwords and other private information from wifi networks in more than 30 countries.

While the company was quick to call this collection of data a mistake,  investigators found out that the capture of personal data was built and embedded by Google engineers in the software of the vehicles to intentionally collect personal data from accessed networks.

The new agreement would make Google to be required to destroy any collected data via Street View, agree not to use Street View to collect personal data from wifi networks without consent, and to create webpages and instructions to explain to people how to secure their wireless content.

Google had been asked to refrain from using and collecting personal data from wifi networks in an earlier settlement in 2013, which raises questions as to why it was necessary to include it in the current settlement as well.

Category: Cyber Security · General · USA
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