Posted in Legal Troubles, War on Privacy

Google fined for GDPR violations

Bring on the penalties!

Google has been fined 50 million euros (about $57 million) by a French regulator for not properly disclosing to users how their data is collected and used for targeted advertising.

The penalty is the biggest yet imposed under a new European privacy law that went into effect in 2018. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation gives Europeans more control over their information and how companies use it.

France’s National Data Protection Commission said on Monday that it imposed the fine after determining Google hadn’t met its obligation for transparency by making information about its data collection easily accessible to users. The commission found that Google didn’t present information about data-processing purposes and data-storage periods in the same place, sometimes requiring users to make five or six clicks to obtain the information.

The General Data Protection Regulation may not be perfect, but it’s already been a boon for users around the globe, including those outside Europe. Companies like Google will never care about user privacy on their own because their business model is monetizing people’s personal information. That’s why it is so important that laws like the GDPR exist… and that they be vigorously enforced.

Posted in Legal Troubles

It’s #GoogleWalkout Day!

This is the best thing that has happened to and at Google in a very long time.

Google employees walked out of the company’s offices around the world on Thursday, in protest of the search giant’s handling of sexual harassment claims — specifically at the executive level.

The walkout began around 11 a.m. local time in Tokyo. Other offices including Singapore, Dublin, London, Berlin, Zurich and New York followed suit at 11 a.m. in their respective time zones. The Twitter account @GoogleWalkout and hashtag #GoogleWalkout tracked the protests as they occurred across the globe.

In Mountain View, California, Google’s global headquarters, employees streamed into a central plaza, near a building where Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s office is located. Employees spoke at a microphone, and the crowd chanted “Time is up!” and “Stand up! Fight back!” They held up signs that said “Stand up for Google women” and “Google men stand with Google women.” Some people wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts. Others wore shirts that said “Protect! Respect! Defend!” with a Google logo on the sleeve.

Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Sundar Pichai, and Eric Schmidt rarely listen to their critics, but maybe they’ll listen to their employees this time and change of their bad business practices.

It was wrong of Google to give Andy Rubin a $90 million golden parachute. It is wrong that Google insists on forced arbitration in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases. It is wrong that Google won’t publicly disclose how pervasive this problem is.

Time’s up. It’s time for change.

Posted in Legal Troubles, Menacing Monopoly

EU authorities hit Google with megafine, showing they’re serious about regulating Big Tech (unlike U.S.)

Three cheers for the European Union:

European authorities fined Google a record $5.1 billion on Wednesday for abusing its power in the mobile phone market and ordered the company to alter its practices, in one of the most aggressive regulatory actions against American technology giants and one that may force lasting changes to smartphones.

The European Union’s antitrust fine of 4.34 billion euros was almost double the bloc’s fine against Google last year over the company’s unfair favoring of its own services in internet search results. The penalty’s size highlighted Europe’s increasingly bold stance against the power of American tech firms, even as officials in the United States have taken a largely hands-off approach to the companies.

The fine was coupled with remedies that would effectively loosen Google’s grip over its Android software, which is used in 80 percent of the world’s smartphones and is a key part of the Silicon Valley company’s business. Those changes, which European regulators ordered to take effect in 90 days, undercut Google’s ability to automatically include its own search and other apps in mobile devices, opening it to more competition in a market that it has dominated.

“Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine,” said Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s antitrust chief. “These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere.”

This needed to happen, badly. Big props to Margrethe Vestager, who just proved she’s serious about enforcing antitrust laws, unlike authorities in the United States, who have continually done nothing as Google (and Facebook and Amazon) have become bigger and amassed ever more power.

Google utterly dominates both mobile computing as well as search & advertising online (with the exception of Facebook’s walled garden). Yet Google has not been subjected to rigorous antitrust scrutiny by U.S. agencies. The most that ever happens is that Google gets slapped on the wrist for a privacy bugaboo or snafu of some sort. The company’s aggressive growth has not been checked or challenged at all.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Did Russia exploit Google’s offerings to meddle in the 2016 United States presidential election?

An investigation is underway:

Google is examining what role its services could have played in Russian interference during the 2016 US presidential election, according to a report published Friday by The Wall Street Journal.

The search giant joins its rivals Facebook and Twitter in their own probes, as they try to figure out how Russian agents could have misused their advertising platforms, among other services, to meddle in the campaign.

“We will of course cooperate with inquiries,” a Google spokesperson said. “We’re looking into how we can help with any relevant information.”

But will the results be made publicly available? Facebook has been less than forthcoming about what its probes have turned up.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Lawsuit alleges Google is a discriminatory place to work

Kudos to the plaintiffs for bringing this suit:

Google systematically pays women less than men doing similar work, according to a class action-lawsuit accusing the technology company of denying promotions and career opportunities to qualified women who are “segregated” into lower-paying jobs.

The complaint, filed Thursday on behalf of all women employed by Google in California over the last four years, provided the most detailed formal accounts to date of gender discrimination and pay disparities at the company after months of criticisms and a growing chorus of women publicly speaking out.

Allegations of possible employment violations emerge at court hearing as part of lawsuit to compel company, a federal contractor, to provide compensation data

“We’ve been talking about these issues for a long time, and it hasn’t really changed,” Kelly Ellis, a former Google employee and a lead plaintiff on the case, told the Guardian in her first interview about the suit. “There’s been a lot of PR and lip service, but … this is going to be one of the only ways to get these companies to change how they hire and compensate women.”

Any effort to hold the Monster of Mountain View accountable for its bad business practices is an effort we support. For a company with a motto of “do no evil”, Google sure does a lot of evil things.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Google slammed with record fine by European Union

Justice:

Google’s record-breaking 2.4 billion-euro ($2.7 billion) European Union fine could end up being just a fraction of the costs from the EU’s demand that it stop skewing search results to favor its own shopping site.

While the penalty will barely make a dent in its $90 billion cash hoard, Google faces the prospect of less ad revenue and a regulatory backlash targeting other services from maps to restaurant reviews as well as the threat of even more penalties.

The search-engine giant will have “the sword of Damocles hanging over its head,” said Jay Modrall, a lawyer for Norton Rose Fulbright in Brussels. That’s because it’s no longer Google’s choice on how it makes changes to allay EU concerns. Instead, it’s “under a legal requirement to do so and under notice that if its commitments are not sufficient, it’ll be fined even more.”

Google is even more of a monopoly in Europe than it is in the United States, with an estimated 95% market share. Given that it is a near monopoly, it deserves to be stringently regulated. Kudos to the European authorities for holding the Monster of Mountain View accountable for its search-skewing.

Posted in Legal Troubles

United States government accuses Google of ‘extreme’ gender pay discrimination

Well, well, well….

Google has discriminated against its female employees, according to the US Department of Labor (DoL), which said it had evidence of “systemic compensation disparities”.

As part of an ongoing DoL investigation, the government has collected information that suggests the internet search giant is violating federal employment laws with its salaries for women, agency officials said.

“We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” Janette Wipper, a DoL regional director, testified in court in San Francisco on Friday.

Reached for comment Friday afternoon, Janet Herold, regional solicitor for the DoL, said: “The investigation is not complete, but at this point the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.”

Herold added: “The government’s analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.”

Google, of course, denies the allegations:

Google said it vehemently disagreed with the charges, which the Mountain View, California, company said it hadn’t heard until Wipper’s court appearance.

“Every year, we do a comprehensive and robust analysis of pay across genders and we have found no gender pay gap,” Google said in its statement.

Uh huh.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this. Historically, the United States government has gone fairly easy on Google, whereas the European Union has cracked down more harshly when it has taken a dislike to questionable Google business practices. It sounds like the gloves may be off, at least with respect to this particular issue.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Report: Indonesia plans to stick Google with a big bill for back taxes and fines

Good!

Indonesia’s tax agency plans to bill Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit for up to $380 million in back taxes and fines that the search giant allegedly owes from 2015.

Muhammad Haniv, head of the tax office’s special cases unit, said in an interview that a team of four tax investigators met with Google’s Indonesian unit Monday, the latest escalation in a growing dispute between government and the technology firm. He said they discussed the alleged back taxes and audit of the unit’s tax compliance records.

“If we take this case to court, Google could be fined four times the tax it owes us,” Mr. Haniv said. He added that Indonesia will also pursue taxes from as far back as 2011, when Google first established a presence in the country. “Now we are still investigating them,” he said.

Google is a very wealthy firm. It can afford to pay its fair share in taxes in all the countries where it does business — Indonesia included. The authorities there are to be commended for not letting mammoth firms like Google escape from their obligations by taking advantage of tax loopholes and other tax avoidance tricks. Time for the Monster of Mountain View to pay up!

Posted in Legal Troubles

French police raid Google’s Paris offices

Well, well:

French police raided Google’s offices in Paris Tuesday, looking for evidence of money laundering and tax evasion.

The state prosecutor said specialist anti-corruption officers and 25 tech experts took part in the search. They were trying to establish the scale of Google’s business in France and to determine whether it has paid enough taxes.

French officials began investigating Google last June, after the country’s financial authorities accused it of dodging taxes. The prosecutor’s office said Tuesday the preliminary inquiry is looking into “aggravated financial fraud” and “organized money laundering.”

We wish the French authorities the best as they complete their investigation.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Google beneficiary of sweetheart tax deal in the United Kingdom

Special treatment from the Monster of Mountain View from Her Majesty’s Government:

An agreement for US firm Google to pay £130m in UK back taxes has been labelled as “derisory” and a “sweetheart deal” by critics.

The payment covers money owed since 2005 and follows a six-year inquiry by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

George Osborne hailed it as “a victory” for the government, but Labour’s John McDonnell said the sums were “trivial”.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said it was “a small amount of money” for Google.

The Tax Justice Network asserts that Google should be paying at least £200 million a year in taxes. The sum of £130 over ten years thus amounts to chump change for one of the world’s largest and most profitable technology companies.