Google faces probe over illegal Gmail ad campaigns

google_broken2Google has been repeatedly ignoring a European Court of Justice ruling on direct marketing emails to use its Gmail platform to send unsolicited advertising without valid user consent.

That is the latest accusation against the tech giant by privacy organisation NOYB, fronted by Austrian lawyer Max Schrems, which has rifled off an official complaint to the French data protection authority CNIL.

Although NOYB claims the practice is European-wide, it has chosen CNIL as it has a history of successful action against Google.

Since the complaint is based on the ePrivacy Directive and not GDPR, the French authority can make a decision without the need to cooperate with other EU authorities.

CNIL has already fined Google €150m – in December 2021 – over its cookie violations and imposed a €50m penalty over the firm’s opaque and unclear privacy notice and lack of legal basis for personalised ads.

Google attempted to overturn the decisions but both appeals were kicked out by the French court.

According to the complaint, Google sends Gmail users unsolicited advertising emails directly to their inbox. It claims that the messages may look like normal emails, but are in fact ads to which users have never consented. When commercial emails are sent directly to users, they constitute direct marketing emails and are regulated under the ePrivacy Directive.

NOYB insists that the directive already makes it quite clear that the use of email for the purposes of direct marketing requires user consent, which Google clearly ignores.

In a statement, the organisation said: “The Court of Justice was pretty clear on the matter: if it looks like an email, smells like an email, then it is an email. It seems that Google ignores this and continues sending spam to their own users.”

While Gmail successfully filters most external spam messages in a separate spam folder, the unsolicited spam messages by Google are sent directly to the user’s inbox. This gives the impression that the user subscribed to these emails or services, when in reality, no consent was obtained from the user.

NOYB lawyer Romain Robert added: “It is quite simple. Spam is a commercial email sent without consent. And it is illegal. Spam does not become legal just because it is generated by the email provider.”

Google has yet to comment on the issue.

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