France’s data privacy watchdog, the CNIL, has fined Google 100 million euros (£91 million) over its use of advertising tracking cookies.
Separately, US online retail giant Amazon was handed a 35 million euro fine (£32 million).
The CNIL (Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés) claimed that both companies deployed tracking cookies automatically without user consent whenever they visited the companies’ French domains. This violates France’s Data Protection Act.
According to the watchdog, while the websites did provide notifications about the cookies, they provided insufficient information about how much data was being tracked and how it was used.
The regulator also said that the companies did not provide ways visitors could refuse the cookies.
Google was found to have committed three violations and Amazon committed two.
This marks the largest fine ever issued by the CNIL and will see Google LLC hit with 60 million euros of the fine. Meanwhile, Google Ireland LLC will have to pay the remaining 40 million euros.
The fines were laid down after a year-long investigation by the watchdog.
In September 2020, during the investigation, Google removed the automatic ad cookies on its French website. The CNIL said, however, that its new cookie notice did not provide adequate information about what the cookies are used for.
Responding to the decision, Google said: “We stand by our record of providing upfront information and clear controls, strong internal data governance, secure infrastructure, and above all, helpful products.
“Today’s decision under French ePrivacy laws overlooks these efforts and doesn’t account for the fact that French rules and regulatory guidance are uncertain and constantly evolving. We will continue to engage with the CNIL as we make ongoing improvements to better understand its concerns.”
In a separate statement, Amazon said that it disagreed with the CNIL decision.
“Protecting the privacy of our customers has always been a top priority for Amazon. We continuously update our privacy practices to ensure that we meet the evolving needs and expectations of customers and regulators and fully comply with all applicable laws in every country in which we operate,” it said.
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Big tech companies have been under governmental spotlights around the world this year. The French fine is just the latest move by authorities to try and rein in the power of the tech giants.
Google was among the companies summoned before the US Senate in October over their role in publishing online content. Amid allegations of spreading misinformation and censorship, the US Government has been considering depriving tech companies of their vital Section 230 protections.
These essentially protect tech companies from the legal ramifications of the content posted on their platforms, designating them as neutral platforms rather than publishers.
Also in October, a position paper from French and Dutch ministers called for EU regulators to have the power to break up the tech giants. They argued that this would help preserve competition in a market increasingly dominated by a handful of large companies.