Google to face further legal action... potentially

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Google take a hit in the Court of Appeal after a ruling allows consumers to sue the Internet giant over alleged misuse of privacy settings. How big of a hit could this be? Not necessarily financially but in terms of further steps toward transparency concerning data use.

The case is being fought over whether UK consumers have the right to sue Google over an alleged Safari workaround which allowed Google to avoid Safari’s privacy settings and place data gathering cookies in the browser.

Google have already had to pay over $40m in fines over the same incident in the US. It was fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and separately by 38 US states.

The money and embarrassment is very much a drop in the ocean for Google and will almost certainly not have a lasting effect but will it change, or set the ball rolling on, the transparency with which data is handled?


Asking the right questions

Mark James, ESET security specialist, is adamant that we should always question how our data is being used, by whom and for what.

“We should question the use of our data by large organisations if only to force them to list exactly what, how and where our data is stored.

“We have to allow them to have it but often have no control over its use; if we are to limit this behaviour it’s good to see the likes of Google being accountable and answerable to the average citizen.

“Financially it won’t impact them much. I would imagine it will force them to change their EULA to ensure it now states how the data is being used and how they will obtain it.

“As always you have the choice to agree or NOT use their application at all, as with most EULA’s it will not affect the average person as they are normally never read.”

Unfortunately a EULA rewrite is probably the best we’ll get. Partly because the vast majority of users aren’t really that bothered about how their data is used or handled until it’s leaked and partly due to users not fully understanding the value of that data.


Hidden costs


Mark also points out that ‘free’ apps do have a hidden cost: the collection of usage and other data.

“So much of our data is surrendered on an hourly basis with so much of it not needed or quite often has no bearing on the context it was obtained.

“Sadly to offer free apps and services there is always a cost even if we do not directly see it, our cost is offering large amounts of personal data to enable these large organisations to sift through and use what they require as and when they see fit.

“We have to come to a compromise, more info is needed from the app developer back to the user with a lot more options on what we do or don’t give over.”

These are points that have become a staple of app related blogs that I’ve written: more choice with permissions and features, how is data collected, what is it used for etc.

It occurs to me that the average app user probably just doesn’t care so long as the app works and makes their life easier, just like eating a chicken nugget: everyone knows it’s not the best meat, everyone’s seen the documentaries, but as long as you don’t think about it it’s still delicious with BBQ sauce.

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