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Sweden orders four companies to stop using Google tool

STOCKHOLM (AFP) – Sweden on Monday ordered four companies to stop using a Google tool that measures and analyses web traffic as doing so transfers personal data to the United States (US), fining one company the equivalent of more than USD1.1 million.

Sweden’s privacy protection agency, the IMY, said it had examined the use of Google Analytics by the firms following a complaint by the Austrian data privacy group noyb which has filed dozens of complaints against Google across Europe.

Noyb asserted that the use of Google Analytics for web statistics by the companies resulted in the transfer of European data to the US in violation of the European Union’s (EU) data protection regulation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The GDPR allows the transfer of data to third countries only if the European Commission has determined they offer at least the same level of privacy protection as the EU, and a 2020 EU Court of Justice ruling struck down an EU-US data transfer deal as being insufficient.

The IMY said it considers the data sent to Google Analytics in the US by the four companies to be personal data and that “the technical security measures that the companies have taken are not sufficient to ensure a level of protection that essentially corresponds to that guaranteed within the EU”.

The Google logo Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. PHOTO: AFP

It fined telecommunications firm Tele2 SEK12 million and online marketplace CDON SEK300,000.

Grocery store chain Coop and Dagens Industri newspaper had taken more measures to protect the data being transferred and were not fined.

Tele2 had stopped using Google Analytics of its own volition and the IMY ordered the other companies to stop using it.

IMY legal advisor Sandra Arvidsson, who led the investigation, said the agency has the rulings “made clear what requirements are placed on technical security measures and other measures when transferring personal data to a third country, in this case the US”.

Noyb welcomed the IMY’s ruling. “Although many other European authorities (eg Austria, France and Italy) already found that the use of Google Analytics violates the GDPR, this is the first financial penalty imposed on companies for using Google Analytics,” it said in a statement.

At the end of May, the European Commission said it hoped to conclude by the end of the summer a new legal framework for data transfers between the EU and US.

The GDPR, in place since 2018, can lead to penalties of up EUR20 million or four per cent of a company’s global revenue.