In the latest display of regulatory muscle aimed at breaches of privacy rules, France has hit Google’s parent Alphabet with a record fine under EU internet privacy laws.

The French watchdog, CNIL, found Google had gathered users’ personal data without explicit consent before using it to generate personalised ads. It also said Google had not “sufficiently informed” users about how data was used to generate personalised adverts.

Although the €50 million fine is small relative to Alphabet’s $9.19 billion net profits last year, it is still a record since the EU’s general data protection regulation (GDPR) rules came into force in the EU last year.

More significantly, observers believe the case could mark the start of a series of sanctions aimed at other large companies, such as Facebook and Amazon, and any company that collects and processes personal data for targeted advertising. Up to now regulators have only enforced the rules against much smaller companies.

After receiving the fine, Google says it is considering its next move.

“This decision goes way beyond Google,” according to Sonia Cissé, managing associate at law firm Linklaters. “Companies like Facebook, Amazon – but also companies with a similar business model based on processing or personal data for targeted advertising –could be sanctioned to high fines in the near future,” she told the Independent.

Stephan Loerke CEO of the World Federation of Advertisers agreed: “It was a matter of time until we saw fines for alleged contravention of GDPR, given the openness to interpretation on issues such as consent. And we should expect more data protection authorities challenging existing corporate practices.

“Adopting a mindset and culture of truly putting people first has to be the best safeguard against non-compliance,” he added.

The case comes as Russia’s communication watchdog, Roskomnadzor, launched a case against Facebook for allegedly breaching domestic data laws by storing Russian users’ data on servers based outside Russia.

Meanwhile, observers in the US predict Facebook will face a record fine for allegedly violating a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over an earlier privacy breach, according to Bloomberg.

Dan Calladine, Head of Media Futures at Carat Global, will be talking about targeting post-GDPR during a WARC Webinar on Monday 28th January. Sign up here for 10 Tech and Media Trends in 2019.

Sourced from Independent, Bloomberg; additional content by WARC staff