French Regulators Fine Google, Amazon Over Privacy

In an online privacy crackdown, French privacy authorities have fined Google $121 million and Amazon $43 million over their use of cookies for ad-targeting purposes.

Both companies violated the country's privacy law by setting non-essential cookies without obtaining users' prior consent, the French National Data Protection Commission (CNIL) said Thursday.

In Google's case, the company's opt-out mechanism also failed to completely prevent the company from collecting data, according to the CNIL.

“When a user deactivated the ad personalization on the Google search by using the available mechanism from the button 'Access now,' one of the advertising cookies was still stored on his or her computer and kept reading information aimed at the server to which it is attached,” the organization said in an English-language version of a statement about Thursday's ruling.

The CNIL's opinion noted that Google stopped automatically setting ad-related cookies in September. But the regulators said Google still doesn't give French users adequate information about how it uses cookies, or inform users that they need not allow Google to set cookies.

The newest sanction comes almost two years after the CNIL fined Google $57 million for failing to obtain people's unambiguous consent before using their data for ad targeting.

A Google spokesperson said the new decision “doesn’t account for the fact that French rules and regulatory guidance are uncertain and constantly evolving.”

The spokesperson also said the ruling “overlooks” the company's privacy efforts -- including the controls it offers to users.

The CNIL also faulted Amazon over its explanation of cookies.

The company displayed a banner to website visitors that said, “By using this website, you accept our use of cookies allowing to offer and improve our services,” according to the CNIL.

That statement wasn't sufficient to explain how cookies were used for ad targeting, and didn't inform users that they could refuse to accept Amazon's cookies, the CNIL said.

Amazon revised its practices in September and no longer places cookies on French users' devices without their prior consent. But the company still fails to explain how it uses cookies, or tell users they can decline to accept them, according to the opinion.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company disagrees with the CNIL's decision, and complies "with all applicable laws in every country in which we operate."

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