Google faces proceedings in Brazil over email scanning

  • Brazil
  • 02/18/2019
  • Lauren Morris

Brazil’s justice ministry has filed an administrative proceeding against Google’s local arm after receiving a breach of privacy complaint.

The ministry said in a 7 February press release that its consumer protection arm found “indications of a breach of consumer privacy” by Google, which allegedly used the contents of emails to target adverts without getting express consent from users.

The ministry’s department of consumer protection and defence published its decision to investigate whether Google violated the internet law and the consumer protection code in the official federal gazette on 6 February after receiving a complaint from federal prosecutors.

The release said proceedings would investigate whether Google violated basic consumer provisions, including the obligation to provide adequate and clear information about commercial practices and the prohibition of conditioning the supply of a product on consent. If found to have violated these provisions, Google could be fined up to 9.7 million reais (US$2.59 million).

The lawsuit came after a judge in a Piauí federal court threw out a public civil action filed by the state’s public prosecutors in 2015 accusing Google of violating both the internet law and the consumer protection code by using content in users’ emails to target adverts. In January 2018, the judge said there was a lack of evidence that Google actually reads users’ emails; an appeal is currently pending.

Patricia Marta, a partner at TozziniFreire Advogados in São Paulo, told Latin Lawyer’s sister publication Global Data Review that Google could face a big fine under the new Brazilian administration, which took office in January 2019.

“Brazil have a new federal government and so the president of the consumer agency has been newly appointed. Within one month, he has already fined two big companies in Brazil,” she said, adding that one of the fines was 9.7 million reais (US$2.59 million).

Marta said that although the investigation is based on the same facts as the civil action case that Google won, the new administration is demonstrating that it is willing to impose big penalties. “The agency president also said in an interview that he would pay more attention to tech firms,” she added.

On 30 January, the ministry fined mobile phone company, TIM Brasil 9.7 million reais for charging customers for products they never requested. In September 2018, the ministry imposed the same fine on fellow telecoms companies Vivo, Oi and Claro.

A spokesperson for Google in Brazil told Global Data Review: “We look forward to working with the Brazilian authorities on this matter. We do not use the information contained in consumer Gmail for advertising and we are confident that our products comply with Brazilian law.”

This article was first publication by Latin Lawyer’s sister publication