Google has been accused of secretly sharing its users’ personal data with advertisers in a potential breach of EU privacy laws.
In new evidence submitted to the Irish data regulator, a rival is said to have accused Google of using hidden web pages to feed data to third-party companies without user consent.
Separately, Youtube, which is owned by Google, today paid out a record $170m in a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and New York attorney general for serving targeted ads to users watching videos aimed at children.
The FTC said Google used ad tracking data on such videos, collected on children under the age of 13 and without parental consent, to push more targeted ads to those age groups.
As part of Google’s settlement with the FTC, the company will be required to create a new system so that content directed at children will be clearly labelled.
In evidence to the Irish data watchdog, Johnny Ryan, chief policy officer of web browser Brave, said he had uncovered hidden web pages while tracking his personal data on Google’s advertising exchange, the Financial Times reported.
Ryan added that Google was “exploiting personal data without sufficient control or concern over data protection”.
He claimed the tech giant had tagged him with an identifying tracker, which could be used by companies to target adverts based on his browsing history.
The latest accusations came as part of an investigation by the Irish data regulator, which oversees Google’s Dublin-based European business, into whether the tech giant uses sensitive user data for advertising.
“This practice is hidden in two ways: the most basic way is that Google creates a page that the user never sees, it’s blank, has no content, but allows third parties to snoop on the user and the user is none the wiser,” Ryan said, according to the report.
“I had no idea this was happening. If I consulted my browser log, I wouldn’t have had an idea either.”
Google’s advertising exchange is a key driver of income for parent company Alphabet, which pulled in roughly 85 per cent of its second-quarter revenue from advertising.
However, the tech giant could face a further fine of up to four per cent of its global turnover if the Irish regulator finds it has breached EU privacy laws.
A spokesperson for Google said: “We do not serve personalised ads or send bid requests to bidders without user consent.
“The Irish Data Protection Commission and the UK Information Commissioner’s Office are already looking into real time bidding in order to assess its compliance with GDPR. We welcome that work and are co-operating in full.”
Main image credit: Getty