Max Schrems: Google breaks privacy rules with Android Advertising Identifier

Max Schrems has filed a complaint against Google with his organization called None of your business in France. According to Schrems, there is unauthorized tracking code that is installed on Android phones without users’ consent.

These are unique ad codes, Android Advertising Identifiers, that are generated on Android phones. These are similar to Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers and allow Google and third parties to track users’ browsing activity. Schrems’ organization Noyb states that it is a “somewhat hidden ID” that allows Google and all apps on the phone to track the user.

These trackers require the user’s consent, but that obligation is ignored by Google, according to Noyb. Google would install the identifiers without permission and not give Android users an option to remove them. Noyb states that users can only reset the identifier, after which a new tracking ID is automatically created to replace it. This would not stop the tracking, nor would the collected data be deleted.

On this basis, the organization has filed a complaint with the French privacy watchdog. Noyb wants this French organization to take action and investigate Google’s tracking practices and force Google to comply with the applicable privacy rules. Noyb also wants fines to be imposed if it is found that the rules are actually being acted on. This mainly concerns Article 5 paragraph 3 of the e-Privacy Directive, which states that users must be informed and have the right to refuse permission.

According to Noyb, these Android Advertising Identifiers are created without the user’s knowledge and therefore being able to give permission for them. According to Schrems, this identifier can be regarded as a kind of registration number for cars. “Imagine you have colored powder on your hands and feet that marks every action: everything you touch within the mobile ecosystem. And you can’t remove it, you can only adjust the color. That’s where it comes in Android Advertising ID is about,” said Stefano Rossetti, a privacy lawyer for Noyb.

The French authority can take a decision immediately, without the need for agreement from other European authorities, as is the case in disputes about the GDPR. About 450 million mobile phones are in use in the EU, of which 306 million use Android. According to Noyb, almost all of them use Google’s tracker. The scope of these Android Advertising Identifiers is therefore enormous, says Noyb. The organization filed similar complaints against Apple a few months ago.