Google accused of tracking users online

Google accused of tracking users online

Google accused of tracking users online

An investigation by privacy-focused browser fearless found the search giant set up secret web pages to harvest user data that helped create profiles for targeted adverts.

John Ryan, the chief policy officer of a private and secure browser known as fearless (disclosure: courageous is a partner of Reclaim The Net) had discovered Google's hidden scheme while trying to monitor how his personal data was traded in the United States tech giant's advertising exchange business known as Authorized Buyers. "It broadcasts personal data about visitors to these sites to 2,000+ companies, hundreds of billions of times a day", said Dr Johnny Ryan of fearless.

Google notes in its guidelines that the company does not accept any user information provided by the buyer, such as the cookie and user demographics.

The petitioners say they want to trigger an article in the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requiring an EU-wide investigation, making it a test case for a new European Data Protection Board created to give the privacy regime more teeth. It broadcasts personal data about visitors to these sites to 2,000+ companies, hundreds of billions of times a day. Its policies are no protection.

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According to The Financial Times, Ryan claims that "he discovered that Google used a tracker containing web browsing information, location and other data and sent it to ad companies via webpages that showed no content". The tracker was linked to his browsing activity, and would enable users of the Authorized Buyers ad exchange to deliver targeted ads.

According to the Data Protection Commission, the objective of its inquiry "is to establish whether processing of personal data carried out at each stage of an advertising transaction is in compliance with the relevant provisions of the GDPR".

Ryan didn't stop there and commissioned ad tech analyst Zach Edwards to try and reproduce the results. Over the course of just an hour, Dr Ryan was able to find six pages sending his identifier to at least eight advertising companies. These identifiers were found to have been shared with multiple advertising companies in an attempt to boost the effectiveness of targeted advertising. Mr Ryan's analysis also found that Google continued to share these with ad firms.

Google responded, saying it doesn't serve "personalized ads or send bid requests to bidders without user consent". "The speed and scale of the broadcast is incapable of complying with the GDPR's security principle", said Ravi Naik, a data rights solicitor acting on behalf of Dr Ryan and fearless.

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