Team Sociating
by on September 13, 2019

As the saying goes, after a storm comes the calm, well perhaps in Alphabet Inc's case, comes the "claim". Last week Alphabet Inc took a few blows. Firstly, news came up about Google's $170 million compensation after allegations that YouTube collected data and supplied particular advertising to children without parental consent (1). Secondly, a team of 30 state attorney generals will soon conduct an antitrust inquiry against the tech monolith (23).

Earlier, in August this year, The European Commission received an open letter from 23 European job boards about Google's abuse of its market dominance in favoring Google's Job Search Experience (formerly branded as Google for Jobs) in its general search results (4). It took the signatories almost a year to respond. In October 2018 the Commission had already requested information after opening preliminary investigations into Google’s conduct. 

Competitors, many of whom lack the resources to compete with Google down to the wire, have found new ways to besiege the tech giant's position. DuckDuckGo, growing in popularity, is priding itself to be the most private search engine on the market by not tracking any information of its users or their searches. In social media it frequently promotes its policy on privacy against Google. Brave, a safe browser competing with Google's Chrome, on the other hand, now speaks up by taking privacy issues to another level: Google is violating the GDPR rules.

Brave recently published a document describing an inquiry it ordered into Google's DoubleClick / Authorized Buyers Ad System (5). In short, the ad system should anonymize users in such a way that an advertiser is not able to combine the data he collects from a user with the data another advertiser has collected from that very same user. To allow companies to compile and swap user data like that would be a GDPR violation. The challenger of Google's Chrome shared its findings and results with the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC).

Back in may 2019 the Irish DPC made public that it will continue to investigate the ad system on data minimization and retention practices by Google. It is to be expected that the Irish privacy watchdog will now examine more closely "whether processing of personal data carried out at each stage of an advertising transaction is in compliance with the relevant provisions of the GDPR" (6).

If and how the complaint from the job boards regarding market dominance and Brave's report on neglecting proper use of data will have a negative effect on Google is unclear. Corresponding to the EU law, severe violations of GDPR can lead to penalties of up to 4% of the complete annual earnings of a company. In 2018, Google recorded a revenue of $136.8 billion. A fine will mean an unexpected expense of $5.5 billion. Sure, Google can take this punch, but one may ask how industries develop when GDPR is used as a weapon for these flanking attacks.

In 2018 The Irish DPC received 6,624 complaints. 54 investigations into multinational technology companies were conducted, including 19 cross-border investigations. Although we do not know the specifics of these complaints, and whether they are justified, it is a fact that companies found their way to fuel EU institutions for several reasons. And these reasons can be strategic in nature. Positioning your company by pointing out to the authorities the lack of GDPR compliance of competitors can lead to a new gameplan for the future.

It is true, in the past regulators issued smaller fines against Google for GDPR violations. However, the potential for a new fine makes GDPR a powerful weapon for smaller, privacy and advertising focused startups, hoping to have equal opportunity and keep bigger tech companies accountable.

What are your thoughts on these flanking attacks of antitrust and GDPR compliance against tech giants? Do you think that the tactic of complaining about unfair treatment usually is the last straw and a losing battle?

Article by Ernst Snijder

Posted in: Trends, Research, Law, Society
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