A coalition of ten European consumer groups is challenging Google’s account sign up process.
You must have a Google account to use many Google products and services. However, the coalition claims that the signup process steers users towards options that collect more data. Google said it welcomed the opportunity to engage with consumer advocates on the topic.
The company said that consumer trust depended on honesty and transparency, and it had “staked our future success on building simpler, more accessible controls and giving people clearer choices.
“And, just as important, doing more with less data”.
Privacy by default
According to the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), which coordinates the coalition, the language Google uses in the registration process is “unclear, incomplete, and misleading”, which leads many consumers to choose less privacy-friendly options.
As a result, “tens of millions of Europeans have been placed on a fast track to surveillance when they signed up to a Google account”, BEUC claims.
The consumer group considers Google’s sign-up process the crucial point at which users choose how their accounts will function. But the simplest one-step “express personalisation” process, it alleges, leaves consumers with account settings that “feed Google’s surveillance activities”.
According to the consumer organisation, Google does not offer users a way to turn off all settings in one click. BEUC says it takes five clicks and ten steps to disable Google trackers on a new account – these include web and app activity, YouTube history, and personalised advertisements.
Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of the BEUC, said: “It takes one simple step to let Google monitor and exploit everything you do. To benefit from privacy-friendly settings, you must navigate through a longer process and a mix of unclear and misleading options.
Ms Pachl added: “In short, when you create a Google account, you are subjected to surveillance by design and by default. Instead, privacy protection should be the default and easiest choice for consumers.”
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires platforms to give users privacy by design and by default. But Google maintains that all options are clearly labelled and designed to be clear and simple to understand. The company says they are based on extensive research, guidance from regulators, and testing.
BEUC members in the Czech Republic, Norway, Greece, France and Slovenia have filed GDPR complaints against Google with their respective data protection authorities, and groups in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands have written to their own authorities about the concerns.
The Federation of German Consumer Organisations has sent a warning letter to Google.