SHARE
COPY LINK

TECH

France hits Google and Facebook with huge fines over ‘cookies’

The latest sanctions slapped on Google and Facebook amount to €210 million in fines and are part of a wider pushback against internet giants by the French government.

Facebook and Google have been fined millions of euros by France for breaching privacy laws.
Facebook and Google have been fined millions of euros by France for breaching privacy laws. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP)

French regulators have hit Google and Facebook with €210 million euros in fines over their use of “cookies”, the data used to track users online, authorities said Thursday.

US tech giants, including the likes of Apple and Amazon, have come under growing pressure over their businesses practices across Europe, where they have faced massive fines and plans to impose far-reaching EU rules on how they operate.

The 150-million-euro fine imposed on Google was a record by France’s National Commission for Information Technology and Freedom (CNIL), beating a previous cookie-related fine of €100 million against the company in December 2020.

Facebook was handed a €60 million fine.

“CNIL has determined that the sites facebook.comgoogle.fr and (Google-owned) youtube.com do not allow users to refuse the use of cookies as simply as to accept them,” the regulatory body said.

The two platforms have three months to adapt their practices, after which France will impose fines of €100,000 per day, CNIL added.

Google told AFP it would change its practices following the ruling.

“In accordance with the expectations of internet users… we are committed to implementing new changes, as well as to working actively with CNIL in response to its decision,” the US firm said in a statement.

Cookies are little packets of data that are set up on a user’s computer when they visit a website, allowing web browsers to save information about their session.

They are highly valuable for Google and Facebook as ways to personalise advertising — their primary source of revenue.

But privacy advocates have long pushed back.

Since the European Union passed a 2018 law on personal data, internet companies face stricter rules that oblige them to seek the direct consent of users before installing cookies on their computers.

90 notices issued 

CNIL argued that Google, Facebook and YouTube make it very easy to consent to cookies via a single button, whereas rejecting the request requires several clicks.

It had given internet companies until April 2021 to adapt to the tighter privacy rules, warning that they would start facing sanctions after that date.

French newspaper Le Figaro was the first to be sanctioned, receiving a fine of €50,000 in July for allowing cookies to be installed by advertising partners without the direct approval of users, or even after they had rejected them.

CNIL said recently that it had sent 90 formal notices to websites since April.

In 2020, it inflicted fines of €100 million and €35 million respectively on Google and Amazon for their use of cookies.

The fines were based on an earlier EU law, the General Data Protection Regulation, with CNIL arguing that the companies had failed to give “sufficiently clear” information to users about cookies.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

TECH

What you need to know about the EU’s plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Union has approved a new regulation that would force tech companies to use a standard charger for mobile phones and electronic devices. What does this mean?

What you need to know about the EU's plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Parliament has approved an agreement establishing a single charging solution for frequently used small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. The law will make it mandatory for specific devices that are rechargeable via a wired cable to be equipped with a USB Type-C port.

The rules have been debated for a while, and the announcement of the agreement has caused controversy, especially among tech companies and enthusiasts. US giant Apple has repeatedly lobbied against the standardisation, saying it halts innovation.

The EU says that the new rules will lead to more re-use of chargers and “help consumers save up to €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases”. Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, the bloc says.

So, what exactly are the changes?

Which products will be affected?

According to the European Parliament, the new rules are valid for small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. This includes mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers that are rechargeable via a wired cable.

Laptops will also have to be adapted, the EU says.

Those devices will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port regardless of their manufacturer.

When will the changes come?

For most devices, the changes are set to come by autumn of 2024. However, the date is not yet set because the regulations need to go to other proceedings within the EU bureaucracy.

After the summer recess, The EU’s Parliament and Council need to formally approve the agreement before publication in the EU Official Journal. It enters into force 20 days after publication, and its provisions start to apply after 24 months, hence the “autumn 2024” expectation.

Rules for laptops are a bit different, and manufacturers will have to adapt their products to the requirements by 40 months after the entry into force of the laws.

Where are the rules valid?

The rules will be valid for products sold or produced in the European Union and its 27 member countries. But, of course, they will likely affect manufacturers and promote more considerable scale changes.

The USB-C cable, with the rounded edges, will be the standard for charging in the EU (Photo by مشعال بن الذاهد on Unsplash)

Why the uniform USB Type-C?

The bloc said the uniform charger is part of a broader EU effort to make products more sustainable, reduce electronic waste, and make consumers’ lives easier.

“European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device”, EU Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba said.

USB Type-C is a standard of charging that has been around for a while but still is one of the best options currently in the market. Also known as USB-C, it allows for reliable, inexpensive, and fast charging. A USB-C port can also be input or output, meaning that it can both send and receive charges and data.

Unlike other ports, it can be the same on both ends of the wire (making it easier and more universal in its use). It can also power devices and sends data much faster.

USB-C can also be used for video and audio connections, so some external monitors can charge your laptop and show your screen simultaneously with the same cable.

What criticism is there?

The project is not without criticism, most vocally from US tech giant Apple, a company that famously has its own charging standard, the “lightning” connection.

Apple claims that forcing a standardisation will prevent innovation, holding all companies to the same technology instead of allowing for experimentation. Still, Apple itself has been swapping to USB-C. Its iPads have already dropped the lightning standard. Its newer laptops can now be charged with the MagSafe proprietary connector and USB-C.

Apple iPhones are still charged with the company’s lightning ports – or wirelessly (Photo by Brandon Romanchuk on Unsplash)

The company’s popular earbuds and peripherals (including keyboards and mice) all charge with lightning. And, of course, the iPhone, Apple’s smartphone, also uses the company’s connection for charging.

While there have been rumours that Apple is working on new iPhones with USB-C connection (though definitely not for the next launch this year’s), the company could go away with wired charging altogether. Instead, like many tech manufacturers, Apple is improving its wireless charging solutions, even creating products dedicated to its MagSafe charging.

It won’t be completely free from the EU regulation if it does that, though. This is because the rules approved by the EU also allow the European Commission to develop so-called “delegated acts” concerning wireless charging. The delegated acts are faster processes that can be applied directly without being put to the vote.

SHOW COMMENTS