‘Spymaster’ Google outlaws ads for consumer tracking

google_broken2Google is likely to raise more than a few eyebrows by banning the advertising of products and services which track or monitor consumers without their permission, including technology which monitor texts, phone calls, or browsing history.

In an update to its “Google Ads Enabling Dishonest Behavior policy”, the tech giant will prohibit the promotion of products or services that are marketed or targeted with the express purpose of tracking or monitoring another person or their activities without their authorisation. The company said it will start enforcing the policy globally on August 11, 2020.

The update gives examples of products and services that will be prohibited, including spyware and technology used for intimate partner surveillance including but not limited to spyware/malware that can be used to monitor texts, phone calls, or browsing history; GPS trackers specifically marketed to spy or track someone without their consent; promotion of surveillance equipment (cameras, audio recorders, dash cams, nanny cams) marketed with the express purpose of spying.

The company says the ban does not include private investigation services or products or services designed for parents to track or monitor their underage children, and it adds: “Violations of this policy will not lead to immediate account suspension without prior warning. A warning will be issued, at least 7 days, prior to any suspension of your account.”

The irony of the move will not be lost on some privacy campaigners, many of whom argue that Google is itself guilty of tracking its own customers without their specific consent.

Earlier this year, the Irish Data Protection Commission launched a statutory probe in response to “a number of complaints from various consumer organisations across the EU, in which concerns were raised with regard to Google’s processing of location data”.

The issues relate to the legality of Google’s processing of location data and the transparency surrounding that processing, with the Irish DPC setting out to establish whether Google has a valid legal basis for its actions.

And, just last month, Google was ordered to overhaul its privacy policies to ensure the company is “crystal clear” about what it does with users’ personal data, following the confirmation that a French court has kicked out the tech giant’s appeal against its €50m (£44m) GDPR fine issued last year.

The complaints, which were filed within days of GDPR coming into force, claimed that Google uses a strategy of “forced consent” to continue processing individuals’ personal data — when in fact the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for the provision of the service.

Following an investigation, French data protection regulator CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’informatique et des Libertés) found that the tech giant made it too difficult for users to understand and manage preferences on how their personal information was being harvested, in particular with regards to targeted advertising.

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