EU officials fine Google, FB on cookies



In the U.S., where big American tech firms typically operate with relative impunity, lots of legislators and consumer advocates wish they could take aggressive action against some of these platforms.

In Europe, the French are doing it based on a relatively minor infraction around user tracking.

Today, Reuters reports that European officials have fined Google €150 million just for making it harder to refuse tracking cookies than to accept them.

Reuters reporter Mathieu Rosemain adds that the French government has also levied €60 million against Facebook for the same reason.

“Internet users’ prior consent for the use of cookies — tiny snippets of data that help build targeted digital ad campaigns — is a key pillar of the European Union’s data privacy regulation,” Rosemain writes.

Again, in the U.S., cookie tracking is routine. There’s no question over whether it’s legal or not.

Not so in the European Union, where a ‘cookie law’ spells out some of the requirements for these types of tracking operations:

“It depends on where you are, but it’s generally not illegal to use tracking cookies,” writes a poster at Stackoverflow, responding to the question: “are cookies legal?”  “In the EU it’s not illegal to use tracking cookies as long as you have user consent, but that’s only if your site is based there. They can’t enforce tracking cookie legislation on systems outside of the EU.”

EU officials explain the law this way:

“(The cookie law) started as an EU Directive that was adopted by all EU countries in May 2011. The Directive gave individuals rights to refuse the use of cookies that reduce their online privacy. Each country then updated its own laws to comply. In the UK this meant an update to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.”

At press time, Google has responded to the new penalty, with spokespersons saying:

“People trust us to respect their right to privacy and keep them safe. We understand our responsibility to protect that trust and are committing to further changes and active work with the CNIL in light of this decision.”

Will this change the calculus around the top U.S. tech stocks in this week’s market?

Keep your eyes peeled…