Google’s $391 million settlement pushes Big Tech fines over $3 billion in 2022

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. 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.

In September, the EU announced a $400 million fine against Meta for its carelessness with children’s personal data on Instagram. (The company said it would appeal.) And Google has been pursued by regulators all year over its Android location tracking practices, its use of cookies, and even a GDPR violation.

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.

From our email and calendar to our drive and VPN(new window) services, Proton gives you privacy by default thanks to our strong encryption and ad-free business model. 

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, 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. 6France$156 millionPrivacy violationsThe Guardian(new window)
May 18Spain$10 millionViolated the EU’s right to be forgottenTechCrunch(new window)
Aug. 12Australia$40 millionIllegal data collectionABC(new window)
Sept. 13UK & EUpotentially $25 billionAbusing monopoly power in advertisingThe Guardian(new window)
Sept. 14South Korea$50 millionPrivacy violationsReuters(new window)
Oct. 20India$161 millionAbusing its monopoly powerAl Jazeera(new window)
Oct. 23India$223 millionRefusal to allow third-party payment servicesTechCrunch(new window)
Nov. 15USA$391.5 millionPrivacy violationsThe Guardian(new window)
Nov. 15EU$4.125 billion (pending final appeal)Upheld a previous fine from 2018 over Google’s abuse of Android’s monopoly powerLe Monde(new window)

Total: $1.03 billion this year (but potentially $26 billion)

Meta fines in 2022

Jan. 6France$62 millionPrivacy violationsThe Guardian(new window)
March 15EU$19 millionIts handling of data breaches in 2018Bloomberg(new window)
Sept. 5EU$400 millionChildren’s privacy violations on InstagramNew York Times(new window)
Sept. 14South Korea$22 millionPrivacy violationsReuters(new window)
Oct. 23Washington state (US)$35 millionPolitical campaign finance violations and legal feesSeattle Times(new window)
Oct. 26Turkey$19 millionAbusing its monopoly powerBalkan Insight(new window)

Total: $557 million this year

Apple fines in 2022

March 28The Netherlands$52 millionRefusal to support third-party payment systemsMac Rumors(new window)
May 2EUNo fine yet announcedApple Pay service violates antitrust statutesDW(new window)
June 6UKPotentially $893 millionThrottling battery performance in 2017The Guardian(new window)
Oct. 6FranceLowered fine from $1.1 billion to $386 millionAbusing monopoly powerCNBC(new window)
Oct. 23Brazil$19 millionSelling iPhones without chargersMac Rumors(new window)

Total: $457 million this year (but potentially up to $1.35 billion)

Amazon fines in 2022

Sept. 14California (USA)No fine announced yetAbuse of monopoly powerReuters(new window)
Oct. 20UKUp to $1 billionAbused its marketplace by favoring its own productsReuters(new window)

Total: $0 this year (but potentially up to $1 billion)

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