Google, Meta fined $71.8M for violating privacy law in South Korea

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South Korea has hit Google and Meta with a fine of ~$71.8 million (100 billion KRW) after finding they violated the country's privacy law, South Korean authorities said on Wednesday.

The watchdog said in its statement that Google and Meta did not receive legitimate consent in the process of collecting information from users who visit their websites and use other websites as well as apps for customized advertisements.

Google did not clearly inform users of the collection and use of other companies’ behavioral information when they signed up for its service and set the default choice to "agree" while covering up further options available via the setting screen, the country’s authorities explained in the press release. Meta also did not specify legally required details that consumers must know and did not obtain users' consent as the company gathered and used their behavior information for personalized advertisements when users signed up, according to a spokesperson at the Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC).

The PIPC ordered the companies to correct the violations and imposed fines of 69.2 billion KRW (~$50 million) on Google and 30.8 billion KRW (~$22 million) on Meta.

This is the largest penalty in South Korea for violating personal information protection laws and the country’s first sanction pertaining to the collection and use of behavioral information on online customized advertising platforms, according to the watchdog.

“While we respect the PIPC’s decision, we are confident that we work with our clients in a legally compliant way that meets the processes required by local regulations,” a Meta spokesperson told TechCrunch. “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.”

Overseas watchdogs have fined Google and Meta for failing to comply with data protection regulations in recent years. In 2019, the French data protection watchdog, the CNIL, issued its first General Data Protection Regulation fine of $57 million for transparency and consent violations. While Facebook-owned WhatsApp was fined $267 million for breaching GDPR's transparency principle last year, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office has also ordered a limit on Meta’s data gathering on users from third-party websites without their permission. That order remains under legal challenge in the EU.

“We disagree with the PIPC's findings and will be reviewing the full written decision once it's shared with us," a spokesperson at Google said. “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."

Updated with comments from PIPC and Google.