This week, Google agreed to settle a lawsuit(new window) brought by 40 US states for $391.5 million. Law enforcement officials in those states said the company had secretly tracked the locations of Android users who thought their location tracking was turned off.
It’s the largest privacy settlement Alphabet (Google’s parent company) has ever agreed to pay. But Big Tech seems perfectly happy to pay vast sums while skirting the law — because it keeps happening.
In 2022 alone, Google has paid out or faced over $1 billion for privacy and antitrust violations, according to an inventory of publicly available information we compiled. Meta, Apple, and Amazon have also been hit with massive penalties around the world.
The total cost of fines and settlements — not counting the associated legal costs — pending or paid by those four companies alone likely exceeded $3 billion in 2022. (A list of the fines appears at the bottom of this article.)
Big Tech keeps breaking the law
Big Tech companies get hit with so many fines that it’s easy to become numb to the headlines. But paying billions in penalties to government regulators should not be seen as normal. The consistency of these violations reflects a business culture that clearly doesn’t care about consumer protections and pursues profit at all costs.
In almost every case, the companies faced penalties either for violating the privacy of their users or for antitrust practices that limit users’ freedom of choice in the marketplace.
For example, Indian regulators fined Google $161 million in October for putting its own apps at the top of the Google Play Store and otherwise abusing its near-monopoly for app distribution. Less than a week later, India slapped them with another $223 million fine for a similar antitrust violation: hurting other apps by preventing third-party payment platforms.
As we have previously written, antitrust violations are really about privacy(new window). Big Tech companies use their dominant position to entice users with “free” products that actually harvest user data for advertising. Meanwhile, they suppress privacy-focused competitors.
All the Big Tech firms have abused their monopoly positions. But Meta and Google in particular also abuse users’ privacy directly.
Why the fines keep coming
After so many billions down the drain, it’s reasonable to wonder why the companies don’t try to shore up their operations and comply with local laws. This assumes, however, that doing the right thing is important to them.
In reality, Big Tech has calculated that it’s more costly to change their business models than it is for them to pay the fines. To put it simply, breaking the law is too profitable for them to stop.
This isn’t a secret. In February, European Commission Vice President and digital chief Margrethe Vestager, the woman in charge of enforcing the EU’s GDPR, said Big Tech is no longer afraid of regulators(new window):
“Some gatekeepers may be tempted to play for time or try to circumvent the rules. Apple’s conduct in the Netherlands these days may be an example. As we understand it, Apple essentially prefers paying periodic fines, rather than comply with a decision of the Dutch Competition Authority on the terms and conditions for third parties to access its App Store.”
Big Tech insists they’re responsible stewards of your data, yet they’re repeat offenders when it comes to illegal data collection and privacy protection.
How to restore privacy and competition
Big Tech will never change their business model of profiting off of people’s personal data. It’s too lucrative for them. And their willingness to keep spending billions on fines proves it.
These violations have real-world consequences for people. Many of these fines are responses to Big Tech violating millions of people’s privacy. The rest are to punish Big Tech’s attempts to unfairly tilt the market in its favor and block competition.
Big Tech’s willingness to continuously and flagrantly disregard the data protections governments have put in place is essentially a refusal to accept that people should have any control over their data. And its disregard for fair market legislation is an attempt to prevent people from choosing online services that do respect their privacy.
The only way to enjoy privacy and freedom on the internet is to choose services that treat customers like people, not products. Proton is building a privacy-focused ecosystem of services you use every day.
At Proton, we don’t need to insist that we’re responsible stewards of your data because we collect virtually none of your data to begin with. Because of our end-to-end encryption(new window), the contents of your emails, calendar events, and drive folders are completely inaccessible to us.
Best of all, with no fines to pay, we can focus on improving our products and building a better internet for all.
Note: The tables below ignore fines from Russia as most of them have to do with tech companies not censoring content on the invasion of Ukraine.
Google fines in 2022
|Jan. 6||France||$156 million||Privacy violations||The Guardian(new window)|
|May 18||Spain||$10 million||Violated the EU’s right to be forgotten||TechCrunch(new window)|
|Aug. 12||Australia||$40 million||Illegal data collection||ABC(new window)|
|Sept. 13||UK & EU||potentially $25 billion||Abusing monopoly power in advertising||The Guardian(new window)|
|Sept. 14||South Korea||$50 million||Privacy violations||Reuters(new window)|
|Oct. 20||India||$161 million||Abusing its monopoly power||Al Jazeera(new window)|
|Oct. 23||India||$223 million||Refusal to allow third-party payment services||TechCrunch(new window)|
|Nov. 15||USA||$391.5 million||Privacy violations||The Guardian(new window)|
|Nov. 15||EU||$4.125 billion (pending final appeal)||Upheld a previous fine from 2018 over Google’s abuse of Android’s monopoly power||Le Monde(new window)|
Total: $1.03 billion this year (but potentially $26 billion)
Meta fines in 2022
|Jan. 6||France||$62 million||Privacy violations||The Guardian(new window)|
|March 15||EU||$19 million||Its handling of data breaches in 2018||Bloomberg(new window)|
|Sept. 5||EU||$400 million||Children’s privacy violations on Instagram||New York Times(new window)|
|Sept. 14||South Korea||$22 million||Privacy violations||Reuters(new window)|
|Oct. 23||Washington state (US)||$35 million||Political campaign finance violations and legal fees||Seattle Times(new window)|
|Oct. 26||Turkey||$19 million||Abusing its monopoly power||Balkan Insight(new window)|
Total: $557 million this year
Apple fines in 2022
|March 28||The Netherlands||$52 million||Refusal to support third-party payment systems||Mac Rumors(new window)|
|May 2||EU||No fine yet announced||Apple Pay service violates antitrust statutes||DW(new window)|
|June 6||UK||Potentially $893 million||Throttling battery performance in 2017||The Guardian(new window)|
|Oct. 6||France||Lowered fine from $1.1 billion to $386 million||Abusing monopoly power||CNBC(new window)|
|Oct. 23||Brazil||$19 million||Selling iPhones without chargers||Mac Rumors(new window)|
Total: $457 million this year (but potentially up to $1.35 billion)
Amazon fines in 2022
|Sept. 14||California (USA)||No fine announced yet||Abuse of monopoly power||Reuters(new window)|
|Oct. 20||UK||Up to $1 billion||Abused its marketplace by favoring its own products||Reuters(new window)|
Total: $0 this year (but potentially up to $1 billion)