Welcome back to our two-part series examining CNIL vs. Google: 10 lessons from the largest data protection fine ever issued.  In this post we continue our analysis of CNIL vs. Google by taking a closer look at the additional lessons we can learn from this important decision. 

6. …tell data subjects exactly what you’re doing with their data

CNIL found that it was hard for users to understand what Google was doing with their data. They commented: “Users are not able to fullly understand the extent of the processing operations… the purposes of processing are described in too generic and vague a manner and so are the categories of data processed for these various purposes.”

The lesson here is: tell data subjects clearly what data you are collecting and what you are using it for. Do not try to obfuscate it.
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In January 2019, the French data protection authority, CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’informatique et des libertés), announced that it had fined Google 57 million euros (approximately £44 million or USD$65 million) for breaching the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) through its use of targeted advertising.

The fine arose out of complaints made against Google to CNIL by privacy activists immediately after the GDPR came into force in May 2018. At the time of writing, it is the largest data protection fine ever issued – but what can we learn from CNIL’s decision?
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The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) imposes strict obligations upon organizations that process the “personal data” of European individuals. Failure to comply with GDPR can result in large fines. The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), in recent months, issued a number of fines of £500,000 on global businesses with household names, and such fines have generated a lot of publicity. Many onlookers would be shocked by the magnitude of those fines but may not have appreciated that they were imposed under the Data Protection Act 1998, which was in force when the offending breaches occurred. Had the breaches taken place after May 25th of this year, when the GDPR took effect, those fines would more than likely have been significantly higher.

Businesses have therefore invested significant resources and money to make sure that they do not fall foul of the obligations imposed by the GDPR. Yet, within less than a year of the GDPR becoming binding law, those same businesses face further disruption as Brexit looms.
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As previously discussed, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) created heightened consent standards for companies processing and sharing personal data of EU data subjects.  When processing personal data under the GDPR, consent must be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous.  Further, the GDPR requires affirmative action by the user, forcing them to manually “check/click” opt-in boxes.  This removes the potential for “implied consent” under past acceptable practice, where the consent box was already “checked/clicked” for users; under that practice the user gave “implied consent” unless the box was manually “unchecked”  (withdrawing their consent).

While the GDPR governs the processing and sharing of personal data, a second set of regulations has already been regulating electronic direct marketing (EDM).  The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) sets rules that organizations must follow when sending EDM.  As a result, when organizations process personal data for use in EDM campaigns, there must be compliance with both the GDPR and PECR.


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In the matter of LabMD Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission, case number 16-16270, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled against the FTC, finding that the order against LabMD for lax data security measures was not enforceable.

The FTC’s original order against LabMD was due to a 2008 security incident where a LabMD employee downloaded a program which exposed customer information over the internet. Although customer harm was never shown by FTC, in 2016 the agency issued a Final Order against LabMD for unreasonable data security practices. The case was eventually brought before the Eleventh Circuit by LabMD to determine if the alleged failure to implement reasonable data security measures in 2008 was an unfair practice under Section 5(a) of the FTC Act.


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After 25 May 2018, data protection will be a high-risk issue for all retailers who fall within the scope of the GDPR. Organizations can be fined up to 4% of annual worldwide turnover or 20 million euros (whichever is greater) for violations of the GDPR. Moreover, the GDPR applies to any business that targets goods or services at individuals located in the EU – so retailers can be caught by the GDPR even if they have no physical presence in the Union.

Retailers should pay particular attention to how they obtain customers’ consent to marketing. The GDPR requires a high standard for consent to use personal data, and violation of the consent is a serious infringement.


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On May 25, 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect. Are you ready?

Who’s affected?  

Organizations, anywhere in the world, that process the personal data of European Union (EU) residents should pay attention to GDPR and its territorial scope.

If you collect personal data or behavioral information from someone in the EU

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will be applicable as of May 25, 2018. The (high) level of penalties under the GDPR will become one of the core issues for companies. Indeed the GDPR is based on the European fundamental rights to privacy and data protection and could potentially apply outside the European Union.

In

The EU and U.S. competent authorities have one year to implement the recommendations that the Article 29 Working Party (WP29, which is a gathering of all EU national data protection authorities) made in its opinion of November 28, 2017 to increase the level of personal data protection provided by the Privacy Shield framework. As they announced in this opinion, failure to do so will result in these authorities challenging the validity of the Privacy Shield adequacy decision before courts. Such a cancellation could lead to certified U.S. companies losing their certification (2,400 companies, including web giants and major cloud providers), having to freeze data flows and implementing other legal mechanisms allowing them to import personal data from the EU.

It should be noted that the EU and U.S. authorities negotiated the Privacy Shield under a perspective that was more in line with Directive 95/46 (the main data protection applicable instrument at the time of negotiation) than with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR will repeal this Directive and increase the level of protection of personal data from May 25, 2018, and the WP29 will plan to prepare businesses for it.

In its report, the WP29 focuses on guarantees of enforcement and efficiency.
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