The ACCC has sued Google, and yes this is the end of the world.

That's right, the ACCC is suing Google for allegedly engaging in misleading conduct and making false or misleading representations regarding its collection, use and retention of personal information, under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). You're thinking, 'hang on, isn't this privacy stuff dealt with under privacy laws'? And you'd be right. Which is why we're particularly excited about seeing how this plays out.

The ACCC is making two claims against Google:

  1. it misled Android users by implying that turning off 'Location History' was enough to stop Google from collecting and keeping location data, when in fact the 'Web & App Activity' setting also had to be turned off; and
  2. its on-screen statement, promising that Google's use of location data would only be for the user's use of Google services, was just a big ol' lie. Location data was used for other purposes unrelated to the user's use of Google services (eg advertising).

Maximum penalties under the ACL have recently increased and are whichever is highest of $10 million, 3x the value of the benefit received, or 10% of annual turnover in the preceding 12 months (where the benefit cannot be calculated). The maximum penalty under privacy law is much lower at $2.1 million (not that anyone has been pinged for anything near that amount). Needless to say, the privacy law penalty is pocket money to these digital giants.

So, a successful finding that Google has breached the ACL has potentially much higher penalties than a breach of privacy laws.

More importantly, if the ACCC is successful, it creates an entirely new area of law regarding privacy which will exist in addition to the privacy legislation. Exciting times.

While this is the ACCC's first move against a digital platform after the release of its Digital Platforms Inquiry in July, it is not the first move we've seen against these platforms globally.

Facebook paid $US5 billion to the US Federal Trade Commission over the unauthorised disclosure of 87 million users' data to Cambridge Analytica and Google coughed up €50 million to French regulators over similar misdeeds to those alleged by the ACCC.

There is a growing conflict between consumers who want some level of control over how their data is used and digital businesses wanting all the data they can get with no restrictions on how they can use it. The ACCC may have just created a new battle ground.

We do not disclaim anything about this article. We're quite proud of it really.