Being no fan of Google, I gave a small cheer the other week when France’s data-protection regulator announced that it had found the company's data-collection practices to be in breach of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation and fined it a modest €50m. Google’s fault had been its failure to be clear and transparent when gathering data from users. The regulator said that (as you surely know) signing up for a Google account on an Android phone means navigating a sea of documents eight-clicks-deep to understand what data about you Google is collecting.
Google today, then, other companies tomorrow ... .
The Economist noted:
So far, so technical, but the bigger picture is what matters. The fine represents the first volley fired by European regulators at the heart of the business model on which Google and many other online services are based, one which revolves around the frictionless collection of personal data about customers to create personalised advertising. It is the first time that the data practices behind Google’s advertising business, and thus those of a whole industry, have been deemed illegal.
All European regulators will need to tread carefully. For one thing, they face accusations of using GDPR to bash American technology companies partly out of envy at not having created any such giants themselves. Criticism along those lines was slung at the [regulator's] decision as soon as it was announced. An obvious way to avoid it would be to apply the same level of scrutiny to European adtech companies, of which there are plenty. They must also avoid chasing only the biggest firms, despite the headline-generating potential. There are questions for the entire adtech ecosystem under GDPR, not just the Silicon Valley giants. The [regulator] signalled that it will apply its regulatory power broadly when it fined an obscure French adtech company called Vectaury in October. Up to now the rules that underpin the digital economy have been written by Google, Facebook et al. But with this week’s fine that is starting to change.