Withing hours of the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) taking effect on Friday, technology giants Google and Facebook have been hit with privacy complaints that could carry fines of up to $9.3 billion in total, a media report said.
With regard to privacy, Google, Facebook and Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram are forcing people to adopt a “take it or leave it” approach which essentially amounts to demanding that users submit to intrusive terms of service, according to the the Austrian privacy-advocacy group Noyb.eu, CNET reported on Friday.
“Tonnes of ‘consent boxes’ popped up online or in applications, often combined with a threat, that the service can no longer be used if user (s) do not consent,” the group was quoted as saying in a statement.
The group is asking regulators in France, Belgium, Germany and Austria to fine the companies up to the maximum four per cent of their annual revenue that the GDPR legislation allows.
This could potentially add up to a $4.88 billion fine for Google parent company Alphabet and $1.63 billion for each of Facebook, and its Instagram and WhatsApp services, if European regulators agree with Noyb.eu and decide to fine the companies the full amount, the CNET report said.
GDPR, designed to give individuals in the European Union (EU) more rights to control their personal information, came into effect on Friday.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai insisted Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee that he runs the U.S. technology giant without political preference.
“We find that we have a wide variety of sources, including sources from the left and sources from the right. And we are committed to making sure there are diverse perspectives,” Pichai told the panel.
Pichai defended the company after accusations from Republican lawmakers that Google has developed online search algorithms to suppress conservative voices.
“There are numerous allegations in the news that Google employees have thought about doing this, talked about doing this and have done it,” Republican committee chairman Robert Goodlatte said.
Republican Congressman Lamar Smith cited a study by P.J. Media that concluded 96 percent of Google’s search results for President Donald Trump were from “liberal media outlets.”
“In fact, not a single right-leaning site appeared on the first page of search results. This doesn’t happen by accident but is baked into the algorithms. Those who write the algorithms get the results they must want and apparently management allows it.”
Smith also cited a study by “Harvard-trained psychologist” Robert Epstein that said Google’s alleged bias “likely swung” more than 2.5 million votes to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
“Google could well elect the next president with dire implications for our democracy,” Smith added.
“I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way,” Pichai said. “To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests.”
Top committee Democrat Jerry Nadler said Republican accusations of bias is “a completely illegitimate issue, which is the fantasy dreamed up by some conservatives that Google and other online platforms have an anti-conservative bias. As I’ve said repeatedly, no credible evidence supports this right-wing conspiracy theory.”
President Donald Trump is among those who have accused the company of censoring conservative content, tweeting in August that Google is “RIGGED” and that “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out.”
Pichai’s testimony came after he angered committee members in September by declining an invitation to testify about manipulation of online services by foreign governments to influence U.S. elections.
The CEO was also questioned about the company’s planned “Dragonfly” project, a censored search engine for China and “next generation technology” that Congressman Smith said Google is “developing on Chinese soil.”
“This news raises a troubling possibility, that Google is being used to strengthen China’s system of surveillance, repression and control,” Smith said. “We need to know that Google is on the side of the free world, and that it will provide its services free of anti-competitive behavior, political bias and censorship.”
An international group of 60 human rights and media groups submitted a letter Tuesday to Pichai, calling on him to abandon the project, warning that personal data would not be safe from Chinese authorities.