Pedestrians walk past the Google Inc. offices in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Google’s Privacy Practices Are A Matter Of Public Concern

The world’s top technology companies are failing their consumers when it comes to privacy and data security.

Tech firms including Google, Facebook and Snapchat have access to tremendous amounts of personal data. And it turns out, customers across the world are concerned that their privacy has already been or is being violated.

Google was recently sued by a group of U.K. customers over claims that the company illegally collected personal data from millions of iPhones. The group, which calls itself 'Google You Owe Us’ initiated representative action in the U.K. and alleged that the company collected this data by bypassing default privacy settings on the Safari browser on millions of iPhones in 2011 and 2012 – a method they refer to as the “Safari workaround”.

Richard Lloyd, a top consumer lawyer who’s representing the group, told BloombergQuint, “You hand over data which is then later sold by the likes of Google at advanced profits – $80 billion last year alone in revenue for Google for their advertising business based on people’s personal data.”

There’s a clear law here in the U.K. that says that companies like Google can’t use people’s personal data without consent.
Richard Lloyd, Consumer Lawyer

Since Lloyd believes that Google violated the law, and hence the privacy of 5.4 million customers in the U.K., he adds that the company should be held accountable.

Google doesn’t believe the case has any merit and will contest it, according to a Bloomberg report.

Lloyd pointed out that big tech companies are using procedural tactics to avoid any meaningful court action by consumers.

Class actions aren’t as common in the U.K. as in the U.S. It’s quite unprecedented for an action to be brought on at this scale and on this kind of data protection issue. What Google is saying is that they disagree that this case should be heard in London. They want it to be heard in California. This illustrates the problem.
Richard Lloyd, Consumer Lawyer
Pedestrians are reflected in a window looking into a lobby of the Google Inc. offices in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg) 
Pedestrians are reflected in a window looking into a lobby of the Google Inc. offices in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg) 

It’s a classical twist. Given the ubiquitous nature of the technology business, millions of customers around the world use products and services from another country. Peter Swire, a professor of law and ethics at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business and senior counsel at Alston and Bird, explains why this gets so complicated. “From a company like Google’s perspective, they operate in 200 countries and they operate one service and if they have different rules and lawsuits in 200 different countries, they can’t offer a global service anymore. And the consumer’s view is, I live in my country and I should have the protection of my country’s laws.”

When it comes to companies doing business in India and Europe, I think the trend has been and probably will be that they will have to follow the local consumer laws when doing business.
Peter Swire, Senior Counsel, Alston and Bird

This isn’t the only instance when the tech giant has been in the spotlight for allegedly violating customer privacy.

It was pulled up by the Spanish Data Protection Commission for illegally using data gathered by its Street View service for Google Maps.

SOS Alert provide people in the affected areas with emergency numbers and real-time updates.
SOS Alert provide people in the affected areas with emergency numbers and real-time updates.

Recently, a Quartz investigation revealed that Google had been tracking user locations from Android phones even when the service was turned off on the device. According to the report, “Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers – even when location services are disabled – and sending that data back to Google.”

When BloombergQuint reached out to Google, the company said, “To ensure messages and notifications are received quickly, modern Android phones use a network sync system that requires the use of Mobile Country Codes (MCC) and Mobile Network Codes (MNC). In January of this year, we began looking into using Cell ID codes as an additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery. However, we never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system, so that data was immediately discarded, and we updated it to no longer request Cell ID. MCC and MNC provide necessary network information for message and notification delivery and are distinctly separate from Location Services, which provide a device’s location to apps."”

And Google isn’t the only company in breach. The French regulator recently imposed the maximum fine of 150,000 euros on Facebook for displaying targeted advertising and for tracking users illegally, using cookies. In August, Uber had to roll back a feature that allowed it to track the location of its riders even after they had ended the their trips.