The fine was by far the biggest-yet for breaking the European Union’s new privacy rules — the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR — that came into effect last May.
CNIL said Google broke the law by railroading users into “consenting” to having their information used for advertising purposes when they set up new accounts. The GDPR is very strict about what constitutes real consent, and it said the information people gave users beforehand was far too fragmented and vague for people to understand what they were consenting to.
“We’ve worked hard to create a GDPR consent process for personalized ads that is as transparent and straightforward as possible, based on regulatory guidance and user experience testing,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.
“We’re also concerned about the impact of this ruling on publishers, original content creators and tech companies in Europe and beyond. For all these reasons, we’ve now decided to appeal.”
Google’s claim to be concerned about publishers comes at an interesting time, as the company is currently in a lobbying battle with big EU press publishers, who want it to pay up every time it uses a snippet of their article text in a search result. However, it is certainly true that many publishers rely on ad revenue that’s based on the online surveillance of their readers, and the GDPR is likely to end up biting them too if they don’t get proper consent for that tracking.
Google also puts a lot of money into funding media innovation in the EU, in a “Digital News Initiative” that serves at least partly as a useful lobbying move.
This was the first GDPR fine to be levied against one of the big U.S. tech giants, and it’s unlikely to be the last. There are still outstanding complaints against Facebook — over similar consent issues — and against streaming service providers including Apple, Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube, over their alleged failure to provide users with all the information held on them when asked.
As Fortune revealed last October, Twitter is also being investigated for not telling a user how it tracks him when he follows links in tweets.