Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems has filed a complaint against Google in France alleging that the US tech giant is illegally tracking users on Android phones without their consent.
Android phones generate unique advertising codes, similar to Apple's IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers), which Google and third parties can use to track users' surfing behavior in order to better reach them with advertising.
In a complaint filed on Wednesday, Schrems 'campaign group Noyb argued that while creating and storing these codes, without the users' prior express permission, Google was performing "illegal operations" in violation of EU data protection laws.
Noyb asked the French data protection authority to conduct an investigation into Google's tracking practices and to force the company to comply with data protection regulations. It has been argued that fines should be imposed on the tech giant if the watchdog finds evidence of wrongdoing.
"These hidden identifiers on your phone can be used by Google and third parties to track users without their consent," said Stefano Rossetti, data protection attorney at Noyb. "It's like having powder on your hands and feet and leaving a trail of everything you do on your phone – from whether you swiped right or left to what song you downloaded."
Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The complaint comes from the fact that Apple is about to make important changes to the way users are tracked, and for the first time asking them to choose to use identifiers in their new iOS 14 operating system. The decision has raised alarms among developers, who expect the majority of users to block the use of IDFA.
Last November, Noyb filed a complaint against Apple accusing the company of breaking the law by tracking iPhone users without their consent. The case is currently being examined by the Austrian and Spanish data protection officers. The US group has dismissed the claims as "factually inaccurate".
Google, which has around 300 million Android users in Europe, is faced with a separate complaint from Noyb to the Austrian data protection authority, in which it is expressly argued that users cannot delete the identifier from their Android devices.
According to people familiar with the latest complaint, Noyb contacted the French data guardian as their legal system is well suited to handling complaints under the European Electronic Data Protection Directive.
Noyb also had concerns about the effectiveness of the Irish Data Protection Authority – which is the de facto leader in the European data protection regulation – after a number of member states, including Germany, accused it of slow enforcement.
Last year, Schrems won a landmark case in the European Supreme Court ruling on a transatlantic data transfer agreement between the bloc and the US used by thousands of companies that did not affect the privacy of EU citizens protected.
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