South Korea Hits Google, Meta With Record-Setting Fines Over Privacy Violations

The regulators say Google and Meta collected users' personal information without their consent and then used that information to serve them targeted ads.

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Google and Meta have yet another privacy regulator breathing down their necks and scrutinizing their advertisement business.

On Wednesday South Korean regulators fined the two companies more than $70 million collectively for collecting users’ personal information without their consent and then using that information to serve them, you guessed it, targeted ads. The Personal Information Protection Commission, Korea’s privacy regulator, specifically issued a 69.2 billion KRW (or around $50 million) fine for Google and a lower 30.8 billion KRW (or around $22 million) penalty for Meta.

The commission reportedly takes particular issue with the shadowy ways the two companies collect information on users when they visit non-Google or Meta sites. According to the commission, those collection efforts weren’t clearly articulated and allegedly occurred without first seeking users’ consent. Now, in addition to coughing up close to $100 million in penalties, the commission wants Google and Meta to provide users with a “clear and easy” process of consenting, according to the Associated Press.

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Together, Google and Meta took in around 53% of net ad revenue worldwide last year according to an Insider Intelligence estimate. In South Korea, the commission argued 82% of people using Google and 98% using Meta’s products let the companies track their online activity.

The fines represent the largest ever issued in Korea for violating personal information laws. Though it’s still unclear exactly how these penalties will shake out, Meta and Google have collectively had to dish out billions of dollars of fines to regulators around the world over the past five years.

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Both Google and Meta refuted South Korea’s fine and signaled interest in appealing the ruling.

“We disagree with the PIPC’s findings, and will be reviewing the full written decision once it’s shared with us,” a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo. “We’ve always demonstrated our commitment to making ongoing updates that give users control and transparency, while providing the most helpful products possible. We remain committed to engaging with the PIPC to protect the privacy of South Korean users.”

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A Meta spokesperson, similarly, told Gizmodo they’re “confident” the company didn’t violate South Korean laws.

“While we respect the PIPC’s decision, we are confident that we work with our clients in a legally compliant way that meets the processes required by local regulations,” the spokesperson said. “As such, we do not agree with the PIPC’s decision, and will be open to all options including seeking a ruling from the court.”

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Google’s having a particularly headache-inducing week. South Korea’s fine comes just days after the search giant fell flat on its attempts to appeal a historic 4.3 billion-euro (around $4.3 billion) European Union antitrust fine over the company’s Android dominance. That 2018 suit alleges Google’s consolidation of the Android operating system led to throttling and less consumer choice. While the court did lower the total penalty amount slightly from 4.34 billion to 4.125 billion euros, it nonetheless upheld the vast majority of the European Union’s argument, according to Bloomberg.

Google, which maintains Android has actually created “more choice for everyone, not less,” told Bloomberg it was “disappointed” with the court’s decision.

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Updated September 14, 11:30 a.m: Added statement from Meta.

Updated September 15, 11:55 a.m: Added statement from Google.