Australian Regulator Sues Google For Misuse Of Expanded Privacy Data

Australia’s antitrust authority has launched federal court proceedings against Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL) for allegedly misleading millions of consumers about expanded use of personal information for targeted advertising.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is claiming that Google failed to properly inform consumers, and did not gain their explicit consent, about its move in 2016 to start combining personal information in users’ Google accounts, which also included browsing information on non-Google sites. As a result, data about users’ non-Google online activity became linked to their names and other identifying information held by Google. Previously, this information had been kept separately from users’ accounts, meaning the data was not linked to an individual user.

The ACCC also alleges that Google misled consumers about a related change to its privacy policy.

“Google significantly increased the scope of information it collected about consumers on a personally identifiable basis. This included potentially very sensitive and private information about their activities on third party websites. It then used this information to serve up highly targeted advertisements without consumers’ express informed consent,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said. “The use of this new combined information allowed Google to increase significantly the value of its advertising products, from which it generated much higher profits.”

The court proceedings come after Google earlier this month was fined by Belgium’s data protection authority for a record 600,000 euros ($682,150) for being “grossly negligent” by refusing to remove links to news articles more than 10 years ago. Last September, the search engine giant won a landmark case against a French authority (CNIL) after battling numerous privacy regulators in Europe.

Nonetheless, Google shares have been on a steep recovery path since dropping to a low in March and are now trading 13% higher than at the start of the year. Indeed, following the rally, the stock’s upside potential now looks more limited. The average analyst price target of $1,636.88 indicates shares will advance 8.5% over the coming year. (See Alphabet’s stock analysis on TipRanks)

Ahead of Google’s earnings release this week, Monness analyst Brian White reiterated a Buy rating on the stock with a $1,420 price target (5.9% downside potential), saying that he expects the company to at least meet his 2Q revenue estimate of $36.80 billion (down 6% YoY; Street at $37.35 billion) and his EPS forecast of $7.66 (Street at $8.23).

“Although we expect Alphabet will continue to struggle with weak digital ad spending and wrestle with antitrust investigations, we remain optimistic about Google Cloud in the current environment and the company’s longer-term position in a world that will become much more digital in the aftermath of this crisis,” White wrote in a note to investors.

Overall, the Wall Street rating outlook for Google remains bullish. The Strong Buy analyst consensus boasts 27 Buys versus 1 Hold.

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