Italy fines Apple and Google for “aggressive” data practices

Italy’s competition and market authority (AGCM) has fined Apple and Google €10 million each for failing to inform users clearly enough about commercial uses of their data, in violation of the country’s consumer code.

The ACGM claims that the pair employed “aggressive” methods to persuade customers to agree to commercial processing, and also accuses them of violating consumer protection rules. To this end, Apple and Google were both contacted for a reaction to the sanction. Both stated that they would appeal the decision.

Google is accused of burying pertinent information at the account creation stage and as consumers use its services — information the regulator says it should give in order for individuals to decide whether or not to consent to its usage of their data for commercial purposes.

Apple is also accused of failing to promptly provide consumers clear information on how it uses their data commercially when they establish an Apple ID or use its digital stores, such as the App Store.

It’s the more unforeseen penalty, given Apple’s reputation as a protector of customer privacy (not to mention the premium its devices and services tend to command vs cheaper, ad-sponsored alternatives from companies like Google).

The Italian regulatory body lumped both firms’ methods together in a press release announcing the penalties, charging each with being especially aggressive in promoting self-serving commercial terms on their customers, particularly during the account creation process.

Google’s ACGM, according to Google, pre-sets users’ acceptance of commercial processing. The adtech giant also fails to provide a clear method for people to withdraw consent for these data transfers after the account step has been completed, the document claims.

The agency also took issue with Apple’s approach, arguing that it limits customers’ abilities to make informed decisions about how their data is utilized in commerce. The regulator claimed that Apple’s data collection methods and architecture effectively “condition” consumers to accept its commercial conditions, implying that they are effectively “forced” into agreement. It’s an odd charge for a firm that spends significant marketing dollars promoting the idea that its devices and software are superior to alternatives (such as Google technology) just because it claims to put user privacy at the heart of what it does.

Apple denies the ACGM’s finding, writing: “We refute all allegations of misconduct.”

“We believe the Authority’s view is wrong and will be appealing the decision. Apple has a long-standing commitment to the privacy of our users and we work incredibly hard to design products and features that protect customer data. We provide industry-leading transparency and control to all users so they can choose what information to share or not, and how it is used.”

A Google spokesperson also disputed the findings, releasing the following statement:

“We have transparent and fair practices in order to provide our users with helpful tools and clear information about their usage. We give people simple controls to manage their information and limit the use of personal data, and we work hard to be fully compliant with the consumer protection rules. We disagree with the Authority’s decision and we will appeal.”

The ACGM’s rulings may be found here: For Apple and Google. The Italian regulator has been busy recently, fining several big tech players a total of 230 million (including Apple and Amazon) for collusion over the sale of Apple equipment Now’s Italian marketplace.

It’s also been conducting investigations into tech giants for years — earlier this year, it fined Facebook 126 million for similar concerns with its commercial usage of customers’ data, and this summer it fined Google 123 million for Android Auto. It has also launched an investigation into Google’s advertising business.

The ACGM has imposed a number of fines in recent years, including one on Apple for misleading iPhone customers about the device’s water resistance and another on Samsung and Apple for slowing smartphones.