South Korea on Wednesday slapped record fines on Google and Facebook’s parent Meta over violations of privacy laws, amid growing concern about a lack of personal data protection in the highly digitalised society.
The state-run Personal Information Protection Commission said it fined Google Won69.2bn ($50mn) and Meta Won30.8bn ($22mn) for collecting personal information without users’ prior consent and using it for customised online advertisements.
The privacy watchdog said the US companies’ business practices could cause serious privacy infringements, as they did not properly inform users nor obtain their consent for collecting and analysing behavioural information from their online activities.
The fines were the highest amount ever imposed for privacy law violations. The privacy panel ordered that there should be an “easy and clear” process provided for getting consent from users, by asking them if they wanted to share information about their online activities.
The action comes as countries around the world are pushing to rein in Big Tech companies, amid growing accusations of abuse of power, using their global influence. Google and Facebook paid Australian media companies around A$200mn in the past year because of new regulations that readjust the balance between tech titans and media companies.
The world’s biggest tech groups, including Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Meta, have agreed to comply with a content law in Indonesia that campaigners warn threatens freedom of expression in south-east Asia’s largest economy, in the latest compromise by the sector to retain access to an important market.
South Korea’s communication watchdog is also investigating Google and Apple over potential violations of the country’s in-app payments rules. Last year, South Korea became the first country in the world to attack the lucrative commissions charged by Google and Apple’s app stores, after passing a law that allowed mobile phone users to pay software developers directly for their apps.
Google and Apple have agreed to adhere to the rules, but the Korea Communications Commission now suspects the two companies might have breached the landmark telecoms act by refusing to comply with it in practice.
Meta objected today to the privacy breach decision, saying: “While we respect the [commission’s] decision, we are confident that we work with our clients in a legally compliant way that meets the processes required by local regulations. As such, we do not agree with the commission’s decision, and will be open to all options including seeking a ruling from the court.”
Google also said it disagreed with the panel’s findings. “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,” it said.
The tech companies can appeal against the fines through administrative lawsuits within three months.