Google Agrees To Reform Data Terms Following German Antitrust Intervention


Google has agreed to make significant changes to its data terms after facing objections from Germany’s antitrust watchdog. The Federal Cartel Office (FCO) stated that the tech giant’s commitments will provide users with a better choice over how their information is used.

Key Takeaway

Google has agreed to reform its data terms following objections from Germany’s antitrust watchdog. The changes will provide users with a better choice over how their data is processed across different services. The Federal Cartel Office’s intervention aims to protect users’ rights and promote fair competition in the digital sector.

Changes to Data Combination and Cross-Use

The commitments made by Google will address situations where the company wants to combine personal data from different sources or use this data across separate services. In the future, Google will be required to offer users clear, specific, and informed consent options for the processing of their data across services. The new “selection dialogues” must also be designed in a way that does not manipulate users towards cross-service data processing, prohibiting the use of dark patterns.

The implementation of these changes will likely extend beyond Germany to comply with similar competition rules in the European Union.

Background on Google’s Privacy Policies

This intervention by the FCO is a result of Google’s decision in January 2012 to consolidate multiple privacy policies for its products into one overarching policy. The company claimed that this consolidation would create a simpler and more intuitive user experience. However, it also allowed Google to gather significantly more personal data, strengthening its ability to profile and target users with advertisements.

Investigation into Google’s Data Terms

The FCO started investigating Google’s data terms in May 2021 to determine if the company’s practices limit users’ choices regarding the processing of their data. The main concern was how Google collects and connects user data across its various services and whether it provides sufficient options for users to control the profiling of their data for targeted advertising.

In January, the FCO found that Google users were not given enough choice regarding the extensive processing of their data across services. The options provided by Google were considered insufficiently transparent and too general. To ensure competition in the market, users must have the ability to limit data processing to the specific service being used and differentiate between the purposes for which the data are processed. The regulator also emphasized that choices should not be manipulated using deceptive design.

Impact of the Changes

By enforcing these changes, the FCO aims to protect users’ rights to determine the use of their data and reduce Google’s advantage over competitors that lack the same data-gathering capabilities. Google’s competitors do not have access to the same extensive data, putting them at a significant disadvantage.

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