Google probed by Ireland regulator over processing of location data

Google Maps app can be seen on a mobile phone.

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Ireland’s top privacy regulator has launched a probe into Google‘s processing of location data that it collects from users.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) said it had received “a number of complaints” from various consumer organizations across the European Union.

It said that those groups raised concerns relating to the “legality of Google’s processing of location data and the transparency surrounding that processing.”

“The Inquiry will set out to establish whether Google has a valid legal basis for processing the location data of its users and whether it meets its obligations as a data controller with regard to transparency,” the Irish DPC said in a statement.

Because Alphabet-owned Google’s European headquarters is in Ireland, the Irish DPC supervises it under the European Union’s sweeping General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

A spokesperson for Google said people should be able to understand and control how companies use location data to provide services to them.

“We will cooperate fully with the office of the Data Protection Commission in its inquiry, and continue to work closely with regulators and consumer associations across Europe. In the last year, we have made a number of product changes to improve the level of user transparency and control over location data,” the spokesperson said.

GDPR, which came into effect in 2018, seeks to give users more control of their data and force companies to adhere to stricter rules around processing that information. If a firm is found in violation of GDPR, regulators can impose fines of up to 20 million euros or 4% of a company’s total global turnover, whichever is higher.

There are still a number of steps before the Irish DPC makes a decision including an opportunity for Google to reply.

The investigation will add further pressure to Google’s parent Alphabet, which reported disappointing fourth-quarter earnings on Monday, causing its share price to fall sharply.

Google is facing a handful of probes in Europe and the U.S. Last May, the Irish DPC opened an investigation into how Google handles data for advertising. That investigation is still ongoing.

Beyond fines, if Google is found in violation of data protection laws, the company could be forced to change its business model, which may impact its top and bottom line.

In the U.S. meanwhile, Google is facing antitrust probes from the Justice Department and a coalition of 50 attorneys general across the country.

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