Brave, the privacy-focused web browser developer led by Brendan Eich, has filed privacy complaints, on Wednesday, in Great Britain and Ireland against Google and associated advertising firms. The petitioners assert they wish to trigger an EU-wide investigation into Google’s privacy policies through the recently-implemented European General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), due to the search giant’s irresponsible use of user data.
“There is a massive and systematic data breach at the heart of the behavioral advertising industry. Despite the two-year lead-in period before the GDPR, adtech companies have failed to comply.”Johnny Ryan, Chief Policy Officer for Brave
The complaint states that intimate personal data that describes users and what they are doing online is broadcast to tens or hundreds of companies without their knowledge in order to auction and place ads, whenever they visit and use Google’s search engine. The personalized information, including sexuality, ethnicity, political views, religious affiliations, and more, is sold by the search company to advertisers seeking to purchase more personalized advertising, in an apparent violation of the GDPR. Google argues that their privacy policies sufficiently protect user data which has been evaluated by European regulators, and are committed to compliance with the GDPR, but Brave’s complaints could lead to more comprehensive investigations into the ways Google uses and sells personal data abstracted from tracking tools embedded in their site and sites which use Google Analytics.
If the regulators are to find in favour of the plantiff’s complaints, it could destabilize the $273 billion data-driven foundations on which online advertising is built, by asserting the right to privacy above an advertiser’s interest in targeting their ads. This could result in heavy fines for companies across the industry, including Google themselves, whose parent company, Alphabet, owns AdWords and AdSense. Alphabet could stand to lose $4.39 billion dollars, if they are found to be violating users’ privacy.
This complaint comes at a time when Google is under fire for multiple reasons, including their change in policy regarding Chinese censorship and questions arising regarding political bias within the company during the 2016 and 2018 election seasons. A leaked video showing the company’s post-election all-hands meeting has only exacerbated concerns over the company’s influence, revealing the lack of self-awareness had by the company with regards to bias and political bubbles. But if the European Union finds that Google is, in fact, unduly violating the privacy of users across the globe, bias won’t be the only shortcoming for which they must provide restitution — their entire business model will have to be reconsidered, to assuredly protect against the tyranny they themselves can represent.
Ravi Naik of ITN Solicitors in London, the legal representation for Brave, said this case addresses a long-standing data-protection concern that “is likely to have far reaching and dramatic consequences, which may change our fundamental relationship with the Internet”.