PS11147-PS11150 - ICA: $20 million sanctions against Google and Apple for commercial use of user data


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The Authority has found two violations of the Consumer Code, one for information deficiencies and another for aggressive practices regarding the acquisition and use of consumer data

The Italian Competition Authority has concluded two investigations against Google Ireland Ltd. and Apple Distribution International Ltd., sanctioning each company for 10 million euros, i.e. for the maximum amount prescribed in accordance with current legislation. The Antitrust has ascertained for each company two violations of the Consumer Code, one for information deficiencies and another for aggressive practices related to the acquisition and use of consumer data for commercial purposes.

Google’s economic activity is based on the offer of a wide range of products and services related to the Internet - which include technologies for online advertising, search tools, cloud computing, software and hardware - also based on user profiling and carried out thanks to their data. Apple collects, profiles and uses user’s data for commercial purposes through its devices and services. Therefore, without transferring any data to third parties, Apple directly exploits its economic value through promotional activity to increase the sale of its products and/or those of third parties through its commercial platforms App Store, iTunes Store and Apple Books.

In these contexts, the Authority has considered that there is a consumption relationship between the users and the two operators, even in the absence of monetary disbursement, the consideration of which is represented by the data that users transfer via Google and Apple services.

The Authority has found that both Google and Apple did not provide clear and immediate information on the acquisition and use of user data for commercial purposes.

In particular, Google, both during the account creation phase, which is essential for the use of all the services offered, and during the use of the services themselves, omits relevant information that the consumer needs in order to consciously decide to accept that the Company collects and uses his personal information for commercial purposes.

Apple, both when creating the Apple ID and when accessing the Apple Stores (App Store, iTunes Store and Apple Books), does not immediately and explicitly provide the user with any indication on the collection and use of his data for commercial purposes, emphasizing only that the collection of data is necessary to improve the consumer experience and the use of services.

Moreover, the Authority has found that the two companies have engaged in an aggressive unfair commercial practice. In particular, in the account creation phase, Google pre-imposes the user's acceptance to the transfer and/or use of his data for commercial purposes. This pre-activation allows the transfer and use of data by Google, once they are generated, without the need for other phases in which the user can confirm or modify the choice pre-set by the company from time to time.

In the case of Apple the promotional activity is based on a method of acquiring consent to the use of user data for commercial purposes without providing the consumer with the possibility of prior and express choice on the sharing of his data. This acquisition architecture, prepared by Apple, does not allow exercising one’s will as regards the use of one’s data for commercial purposes. Therefore, the consumer is conditioned in the choice of consumption and is subjected to the transfer of personal information, which Apple may have for its promotional purposes carried out in different ways.

Rome, 26 November 2021