Travel startups cry foul over what Google’s doing with their data

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As the antitrust drumbeat continues to pound on tech giants, with Reuters reporting comments today from the US Justice Department that it’s moving “full-tilt” on an investigation of platform giants including Google parent Alphabet, startups in Europe’s travel sector are dialling up their allegations of anti-competitive behavior against the search giant.

Google has near complete grip on the search market in Europe, with a regional marketshare in excess of 90% according to Statcounter. Unsurprisingly industry sources say a majority of travel bookings start as a Google search — giving the tech giant huge leverage over the coronavirus-hit sector.

More than half a dozen travel startups in Germany are united in a shared complaint that Google is abusing its search dominance in a number of ways they argue are negatively impacting their businesses.

Complaints we’ve heard from multiple sources in online travel range from Google forcing its own data standards on ad partners to Google unfairly extracting partner data to power its own competing products on the cheap.

Startups are limited in how much detail they can provide about Google’s processes on the record because the company requires advertising partners to sign NDAs to access its ad products. But this week German newspaper Handelsblatt reported on antitrust complaints from a number of local startups — including experience booking platform GetYourGuide and vacation rental search engine HomeToGo — who are accusing the tech giant of stealing content and data.

The group is considering filing a cartel complaint against Google, per its report.

We’ve also heard from multiple sources in the European travel sector that Google has exhibited a pattern of trying to secure the rights to travel partners’ content and data through contracts and service agreements.

One source, who did not wish to be identified for fear of retaliation against their business, told us: “Each travel partner has certain specialities in their business model but overall the strategy of Google has been the same: Grab as much data from your partners and build competing products with that data.”

Not ok, Google

This is now a very familiar complaint against Google. Crowdsourced reviews platform Yelp has been accusing the tech giant of stealing content for years. More recently, Genius got creative with a digital watermark that caught Google redhanded scraping lyrics content from its site which it pays to license (but Google does not). As Lily Allen might put it, it’s really not okay.

Last month’s Congressional antitrust subcommittee hearing kicked off with exactly this accusation too — as chair, David Cicilline, barked at Google and Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai: “Why does Google steal content from honest businesses?” Pichai dodged the question by claiming he doesn’t agree with the characterization. But for Google and parent Alphabet there’s no dodging the antitrust drumbeat pounding violently in the company’s backyard.

In Europe, Google’s business already has a clutch of antitrust enforcements against it — starting three years ago, in a case which dated back six years at that point, with a record breaking penalty for anti-competitive behavior in how it operated a product search service called Google Shopping. EU enforcements against Android and AdSense swiftly followed. Google is appealing all three decisions, even as it continues to expand its operations in lucrative verticals like travel.

The Commission’s 2017 finding that Google is dominant in the regional search market carried what lawmakers couch as a “special responsibility” to avoid breaching the bloc’s antitrust rules in any market Google plays in. That finding puts the travel sector squarely in the frame, although not yet under formal probe by EU regulators (although they have opened an active probe of Google’s data collection practices, announced last year).

EU regulators are also examining a range of competition concerns over its proposed acquisition of Fitbit, delaying the merger while they consider whether the deal would further entrench Google’s position in the ad market by giving it access to a trove of Fitbit users’ health data that could be used for increased ad personalization.

But so far, on travel, the Commission has been keeping its powder dry.

Yet for around a decade the tech giant has been building out products that directly compete for travel bookings in growth areas like flight search. More recently it’s added hotels, vacation rentals and experiences — bringing its search tool into direct competition with an increasing range of third party booking platforms which, at least in Europe, have no choice but to advertise on Google’s platform to drive customer acquisition.

One key acquisition underpinning Google’s travel ambitions dates back to 2010 — when it shelled out $700M for ITA, a provider of flight information to airlines, travel agencies and online reservation systems. The same year it also picked up travel guide community, Ruba.

Google beat out a consortium of rivals for ITA, including Microsoft, Kayak, Expedia, and Travelport, who relied upon its data to power their own travel products — and had wanted to prevent Google getting its hands on the data.

Back then travel was already a huge segment of search and online commerce. And it’s continued to grow — worth close to $700BN globally in 2018, per eMarkter (although the coronavirus crisis is likely to impact some recent growth projections, even as the public health crisis accelerates the industry’s transition to digital bookings) — all of which gives Google huge incentive to carve itself a bigger and bigger share of the pie. 

This is what Google is aiming to do by building out ad units that cater to travellers’ searches by offering flights, vacation rentals and trip experiences, searchable without needing to leave Google’s platform. 

Google defends this type of expansion by saying it’s just making life easier for the user by putting sought for information even closer to their search query. But competitors contend the choices it’s making are far more insidious. Simply put, they’re better for Google’s bottom line — and will ultimately result in less choice and innovation for consumers — is the core argument. The key contention is Google is only able to do this because it wields vast monopoly power in search which gives it unfair access to travel rivals’ content and data.

It’s certainly notable that Alphabet hasn’t felt the need to shell out to acquire any of the major travel booking platforms since its ITA acquisition. Instead its market might allows it to repackage and monetize rival travel platforms’ data via an expanding array of its own vertical travel search products. 

One of the German consortia of travel startups with a major beef against Google is Berlin-based HomeToGo. The vacation rentals platform confirmed to TechCrunch it has filed an antitrust complaint against the company with the European Commission.

It told us it’s watched with alarm as Google introduced a new ad unit in search results which promotes a vacation rental search and booking experience — displaying property thumbnails, alongside locations and prices plotted on a map — right from insight Google’s platform.

Screengrab showing Google vacation rental ad unit, populated with content from a range of partners

Discussing the complaint, HomeToGo CEO and co-founder, Dr Patrick Andrae, told us: “Due to the monopoly Google has in horizontal search, just by having this kind of access [to the vast majority of European Internet searchers], they’re so top of the funnel that they theoretically can go into any vertical. And with the power of their monopoly they can turn on products there without doing any prior investment in it.

“Anyone else has to work a lot on SEO strategies and these kind of things to slowly go up in the ranking but Google can just snap its fingers and say, basically, tomorrow I want to have a product.”

The complaint is not just that Google has built a competing ad product in vacation rentals but — following what has become a standard colonizing playbook for seemingly any vertical area Google sees is grabbing traffic — its packaging of the competing product is so fully featured and eye-catching that it results in greater prominence for Google’s ad vs organic search results (or indeed paid ad links) where rivals may appear as plain old blue links.

“They create this giant, colorful super CTA [call-to-action], as we call it — this one-box thing — where everything is clickable and leads you into the Google product,” said Andrae. “They explain that it’s better for the user experience but no one ever said that the user wants to have a one-box there from Google. Or why shouldn’t it be a one-box from HomeToGo? Or why shouldn’t it be a one-box in the flight word from Kayak? Or in the hotel world from Trivago? So why is it just the Google product that’s colorful, nice, and showing up?”

Andrae argues that the design of the unit is intended to give the user the impression that “Google has everything there”, on its platform. So, y’know, why go looking elsewhere for a vertical search engine?

He also points out that the special unit is not available to competitors. “You cannot buy it,” he said. “So even if you would like to have this prominent kind of placement you cannot buy that as a third party company. Even if you would like to pay money for it — I’m not talking about being in the product itself, that’s another topic — but just having the same kind of advertisement, because it is what they do — they advertise their own product there for free — and this is our complaint.”

Pay with your data

In 2017, when the Commission slapped Google with the first record-breaking penalty over its search comparison service — finding it had systematically given prominent placement to its own comparison shopping service over and above rival services in organic search results — competition chief Margrethe Vestager disclosed it had also received complaints about Google’s behavior in the travel sector.

Asked about the sector’s concerns now, some three years later, a Commission spokeswoman told us it’s “monitoring the markets concerned” — but declined to comment on any specific gripes.

Here’s another complaint: GetYourGuide, a Berlin based travel startup that’s created a discovery and booking platform for travel tours and experiences, has similar concerns about Google’s designs on travel experience booking — another travel segment the tech giant is moving into via its own eye-catching ad units flogging experiences.

“They want to create experience products now directly on Google search itself, with the aim that ultimately people can book these type of things on Google,” said GetYourGuide CEO and co-founder Johannes Reck. “What Google tries to do now is they try to get [travel startups’] content and our data in order to create new competitive products on Google.”

The startup is unhappy, for example, that a ‘Things to do’ ad product Google shows in its search results doesn’t link to GetYourGuide’s own search page — which would be the equivalent and competing third party product.

“Google will not allow us to link them into our search but only into the details page so the customer sees even less of our brand,” he said. “Or in Maps, for instance, if you go to Eiffel Tower and press to book tickets you don’t see any of GetYourGuide despite us fulfilling that order.”

He also rejects Google’s claim against this sort of complaint that it’s simply ‘doing the right thing for the user’ by not linking them out to the rival platform. “We do know from our data that users convert better and spend more time on our site and have higher engagement rates when we link them into our search and then deeper down into the funnel,” he told TechCrunch. “What Google is saying is not that it serves the user — it serves Google and it serves their profits. Because the deeper down the funnel that you link, the user will either buy or they will bounce back to Google and search for the next product. If you link into searches — if you don’t verticalize as much — then the user will end up in a different ecosystem and might not bounce back to Google.”

“As a partner [of Google] you have limited choice to participate [in its ad products]. You do need to give Google that content and then Google will try to move as many of the customers to them,” Reck added. “I don’t think there ever will be a world where booking.com or Expedia or GetYourGuide will disappear — rather our brands will start to disappear.

“That is something that I think ultimately is bad for the customer and only serves Google, again, because the customer will, in the long run, have no other choice and no other visibility on how he can get to choice than to go through Google because our brands will basically be hidden behind a Google wall. That will turn Google firmly away from what their original mission was… to steer people to the most relevant content on the web… Now they are trying to be completely the opposite; they’re trying to be the Amazon or Alibaba of travel and try to keep and contain people in their ecosystem.”

During the congressional antitrust subcommittee hearing last month Pichai claimed Google faces fierce competition in travel. Again, Reck contends that’s simply not true. “In Europe more than 75% of travellers go to Google to search for travel and all those users are free,” he said. “Everyone else in the travel industry pays Google top dollar… for these queries. Which competition exactly is he referring to?”

“[Pichai] then claimed that they’re not leveraging partners’ content — that’s not accurate. If you look at Google if you want to be in the top results these days you either pay or you give them data so that they can build their own products into search.”

“This dates back ten years now when they acquired ITA software, which is the leading data provider for flights,” Reck added. “They’ve just paved their way into travel. I think their intent is very clear at this point that they have no interest in their partners — or their customers for that matter, who like the choice that’s being offered on Google.”

“What they want to morph into, basically, is to turn Google into the Amazon of travel where everyone else maybe a content provider or a fulfilment agent but the consumer has no choice but to go through Google. I think that is the key intent here. They want to limit consumer choice. And they want to monopolise the space. We don’t want that and we will fight that. And if that means we need to go to the EU Commission to protect our and the customers’ interests then we’ll do that and we’re currently reviewing that option.”

The looming harm for consumers around reduced choice could manifest in poorer customer service, which is an area vertical players tend to focus on — whereas Google, as a platform funnel, does not.

Another German travel startup — Munich-based FlixBus — was also willing to go on the record with concerns about the impact of Google’s market power on the sector, despite not being in the same position as its business is not an aggregator.

Nonetheless, FlixBus Jochen Engert, founder and CEO, called on regional lawmakers to act against what he described as Google’s “systematic abuses” of market dominance.

“We call on the politicians in Germany and the EU to now work for fair competition on the Internet. It must be forbidden that monopolistic companies like Google abuse their market power, especially in times of crisis, and prevent competition for the benefit of the customer due to their dominance,” he told us. “Google systematically abuses its dominant market position to seal off access to customers from competitors and gets away with it time and again. It is only a matter of time before other industries and business models, in addition to travel, hotel and flight bookings, are permanently threatened.

“For FlixMobility [FlixBus’ parent company] as an internationally positioned market leader with its own platform, technology and our unique content, the situation is more relaxed than for smaller start-ups or those which also aggregate content such as Google. Nevertheless, in our opinion Google should be obliged to list and market its own products in search results on an equal footing with comparable offers. Here regulation must not stand by and watch for too long, but must react before Google irretrievably controls customer access and excludes competition.”

GetYourGuide’s Reck expressed hope that German lawmakers might be able to offer more expeditious relief to the sector than the European Commission — whose competition investigations typically grind through the details for years.

“The German government is actually very alert at this point in time,” he said. “They’re currently working on a new competition legislation that they will put in place probably within the next six months. It’s already in the making — and that will also be addressed to exactly that type of behavior of global, quasi-monopolistic platforms crossing the demarcation line, moving into other fields and trying to leverage their monopoly in order to create synergies in adjacent fields and crowd out competition.”

Asked what kind of intervention he would like to see regulators make against Google, Reck suggests its business should be regulated akin to a utility — advocating for controls on data, including around the openness of data, to level the playing field.

Though he also told us he would be supportive of more radical measures, such as breaking Google up. (But, again, he says speed of intervention is of the essence.)

“If you look at all of the data that Google collects, whether that’s consumer reviews, availability from its partners, all of the content from its partners, all of the information that they have through Android, whether that’s geo-specific data, whether that is interests, whether that is contextual information, Google is training their algorithms day and night on this data, no one else can. But we all have to provide data to Google,” he said.

“That’s not a level playing field. We need to think about how we can have a more open data architecture, that obviously is compliant with our data privacy laws but where developers from anywhere can build products based on the Google platform… As a developer in travel it’s currently very hard for me to access any data from Google so I can build better products for consumers. And I think that really needs to change — Google needs to open us for us to create a more vibrant and competitive ecosystem.”

“At a national or EU level we need to have an updated legal code that allows for quick interventions,” Reck added, saying competition enforcement simply can’t carry on at the same pace as for the markets of the past. “Things are moving way too quickly for that. You need to take a completely new approach.

“As Google correctly pointed out consumer prices have fallen but falling consumer prices is the weapon in tech; offering products for free allows you to gain marketshare in order to crowd out competition, which again leaves less choice for the customer so I think we need to think about how we think about tech and platforms in new ways.”

The Commission is currently consulting on whether competition regulators need a new tool to be able to intervene more quickly in digital markets. But there’s more than a trace of irony that its adherence to process means further delay as regulators question whether they need more power to intervene in digital markets to prevent tipping, instead of acting on long-standing complaints of market abuse attached to the 800lb gorilla of Internet search — with its “special responsibility” not to trample on other markets.

Reached for comment on the travel startups’ complaints, a Google spokeswoman sent us this statement:

There are now more ways than ever to find information online, and for travel searches, people can easily choose from an array of specialized sites, like TripAdvisor, Kayak, Expedia and many more. With Google Search, we aim to provide the most helpful and relevant results possible to create the best experience for users around the world and deliver valuable traffic to travel companies.

During the pandemic, we’ve been working hard with our partners in the travel industry to help them protect their businesses and look toward recovery. We launched new tools for airlines so they can better predict consumer demand and plan their routes. For hotels, we expanded our ‘pay per stay’ program globally to shift the risk of cancellation from our partners to us. And we’ve updated our search products so consumers can make informed decisions when planning future travel, further reducing the risk of cancellation.

The company did not respond to our request for a response to claims we heard that it seeks to secure rights to partners’ content and data via contracts and service agreements.

No relief

In another sign of the growing rift between Google and its travel partners in Europe, German startups in the sector banded together to press it for better terms during the coronavirus crisis earlier this year — accusing the tech giant of being inflexible over payments for ads they’d runs before the crisis hit. This meant they were left with a huge hole in their balance sheets after making mass refunds for travellers who could no longer take their planned trip. But the gorilla wasn’t sympathetic, demanding full payment immediately.

Asked what happened after TechCrunch reported on their concerns at the end of April, Reck said Google went silent for a few weeks. But as soon as the travel market started picking up in Germany — and GetYourGuide decided it needed to start advertising on Google again — it reissued the demand for full payment.

GetYourGuide says it was left with no choice but pay, given it needed to be able to run Google ads.

Reck describes the recovery package Google offered after it made the payment as “a Google recovery package” — as it was tied to GetYourGuide spending a large amount on YouTube ads in order to get a small discount.

The offer would recoup only “fraction” of GetYourGuide’s original losses on Google ads during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, per Reck. “YouTube obviously is not where we lost the money. We lost the money in search where we had high intent customers, Google customers that wanted to come and shop. So that to us was [another] slap in the face,” he added.

ICE just signed a contract with facial recognition company Clearview AI

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) signed a contract with facial recognition company Clearview AI this week for “mission support,” government contracting records show (as first spotted by the tech accountability nonprofit Tech Inquiry). The purchase order for $224,000 describes “clearview licenses” and lists “ICE mission support dallas” as the contracting office.

ICE is known to use facial recognition technology; last month, The Washington Post reported the agency, along with the FBI, had accessed state drivers’ license databases — a veritable facial recognition gold mine, as the Post termed it — but without the knowledge or consent of drivers. The agency has been criticized for its practices at the US southern border, which has…

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This Lightning Fast Robotic Tongue Ensures You’ll Snatch the Last Container of Clorox Wipes

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Watch any kid play with a tape measure and you’ll understand where researchers from the Seoul National University of Science and Technology found the inspiration for their new chameleon-like robot that can snag objects with its artificial tongue over 30 inches away in less than 600 milliseconds.

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A beginner’s guide to diversity, equity and inclusion

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After Minneapolis police killed George Floyd and the subsequent racial justice uprising, many people in tech shouted from the rooftops that “Black Lives Matter,” despite having subpar representation of Black and Latinx folks at their companies. In some cases, these companies’ proclamations of “Black Lives Matter” felt especially performative in contrast to their respective stances on Trump and selling their technology to law enforcement agencies. 

Still, this has led to an increased focus on diversity, inclusion and equity in the tech industry. If you’re wondering things like, “Where do I find Black and brown talent?” or saying, “I’d invest in Black and Latinx people if I could find them!,” then this is for you. 

Below, you’ll learn about some of the issues at play, some of the key organizations doing work in this space, and access a glossary of frequently used terms in the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion in tech.


The data



Glossary of terms


Below, you’ll find a list of commonly used terms when talking about diversity, equity and inclusion.

  • Ableism: Discrimination that favors able-bodied people.
  • Accomplice: Someone who uses their privilege to actively advocate for change as it pertains to BIPOC, women, disabled people and so forth. An example of this is a white person who calls out racism in the workplace.
  • Ally: A more passive version of an accomplice. An example of an ally is someone who supports the cause but may not put themselves on the line.
  • Anti-racist: “To be antiracist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right — inferior or superior — with any of the racial groups. Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body.” – Ibram X. Kendi
  • BIPOC: Black, Indigenous and people of color. This term is an alternative to simply saying “people of color,” which fails to recognize the unique experiences and hardships of Black (slavery) and Indigenous (genocide) folks in the U.S.
  • Cisgender: Person whose gender matches their sex assigned at birth.
  • Culture fit: Code for “looks like me, thinks like me,” which can lead to homogenous workplaces.
  • Diversity report: An oftentimes yearly report where tech companies show their employee demographic breakdown.
  • Equality: Treating everyone the same, regardless of any structural barriers of discrimination.
  • Equity: Treating people in fair and just ways that take into account systemic discrimination and other structural barriers.
  • Gender nonconforming: People who identify with no specific gender.
  • Imposter syndrome: When individuals doubt their worth and accomplishments and fear being exposed as a fraud.
  • Intersectionality: The concept that people face multi-faceted layers of discrimination as a result of their intersecting identities relating to race, gender, class, sexual orientation, etc. For women and trans people of color, the oppressive institutions of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia all come into play and cannot be examined separately.
  • Microaggression: Casual comments, behaviors or actions that are driven by underlying biases about a particular race, gender, sexuality or other characteristic. A classic example of this is telling a Black person, “You’re so articulate!” or, “You’re the whitest Black person I know!” The former suggests its rare for Black people to be articulate while the latter implies that Black person’s behavior doesn’t fit in with society’s stereotypical ideas of Blackness.
  • Performative: Engaging in woke speak without engaging in woke action.
  • Pipeline problem: A misconception that the lack of diversity in tech is a result of too few Black and Latinx people interested in technology.
  • Transgender: Person whose gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth.
  • Unconscious bias: Also known as implicit biases, these are underlying beliefs people have about certain groups of people that are powered by stereotypes. Over the years, however, some have argued that these types of biases are not all that unconscious.
  • White privilege: The benefits and advantages that people have simply for being white in society. More here.

DE&I Landscape


Diversity, inclusion and equity do not just mean hiring and recruiting Black and brown folks. It touches on all aspects of the tech industry, including venture capital and the gig economy, where many of its workers are Black, Indigenous or people of color.

Common wisdom is that it’s better to start focusing on your startup’s diversity and inclusion efforts sooner rather than later. And by “sooner” we mean now.

Below, you’ll find an overview of the organizations active in this space. Whether you’re looking to beef up your recruiting efforts, implement unconscious bias or allyship trainings, seek mentorship, get funding or connect with other gig workers, there’s something here for you.

This guide is not comprehensive but is designed to serve as a starting point for those not quite knowing where to begin. As for next steps, we recommend getting in touch with any of those organizations featured above that piqued your interest.


Additional reading


Ubisoft fires former Assassin’s Creed Valhalla creative director following an investigation

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Ashraf Ismail, the former creative director for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, has been fired by Ubisoft, Bloomberg reports. Ismail stepped down from his role and took a leave of absence in June after a fan accused Ismail of lying about his marital status in order to pursue a romantic relationship with her.

“As a result of investigations, Ashraf Ismail has been dismissed from Ubisoft and is no longer an employee,” a spokesman for Ubisoft told The Verge. Kotaku also viewed an internal message sent to employees confirming the company had terminated Ismail’s employment following an external investigation.

Ubisoft has been under scrutiny since June when dozens of people spoke out on social media about the company’s toxic work culture, which a…

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Intel 11th-gen Tiger Lake vs. Ryzen 4000: Which chip will win?

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Now that Intel’s finally announced its new Tiger Lake CPU for laptops Thursday morning, we can finally start making the odds on which chip will win: 11th-gen Tiger Lake or AMD Ryzen 4000.

Sure, we know laptops based on the Tiger Lake CPU aren’t even out yet (wait for a rollout on September 2), and there are far more Ryzen 4000 laptops coming too, but that’s never stopped the media from speculating. In our case, we’ll make the best educated guesses we can based on what we know. Here’s how the competition seems to be shaking out: 

Raja Koduri Intel

The challenger: Tiger Lake

Intel is playing its Tiger Lake cards pretty close to its chest, so there still isn’t a lot on the table. What we know officially is that the 11th-gen Tiger Lake CPU is built on a 10nm process, using SuperFin technology that primarily addresses one of the shortcomings of the original 10th-gen Ice Lake chip: relatively limited clock speeds. 

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Oracle and Salesforce hit with GDPR class action lawsuits over cookie tracking consent

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The use of third party cookies for ad tracking and targeting by data broker giants Oracle and Salesforce is the focus of class action style litigation announced today in the UK and the Netherlands.

The suits will argue that mass surveillance of Internet users to carry out real-time bidding ad auctions cannot possibly be compatible with strict EU laws around consent to process personal data.

The litigants believe the collective claims could exceed €10BN, should they eventually prevail in their arguments — though such legal actions can take several years to work their way through the courts.

In the UK, the case may also face some legal hurdles given the lack of an established model for pursuing collective damages in cases relating to data rights. Though there are signs that’s changing.

Non-profit foundation, The Privacy Collective, has filed one case today with the District Court of Amsterdam, accusing the two data broker giants of breaching the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in their processing and sharing of people’s information via third party tracking cookies and other adtech methods.

The Dutch case, which is being led by law-firm bureau Brandeis, is the biggest-ever class action in The Netherlands related to violation of the GDPR — with the claimant foundation representing the interests of all Dutch citizens whose personal data has been used without their consent and knowledge by Oracle and Salesforce. 

A similar case is due to be filed later this month at the High Court in London England, which will make reference to the GDPR and the UK’s PECR (Privacy of Electronic Communications Regulation) — the latter governing the use of personal data for marketing communications. The case there is being led by law firm Cadwalader

Under GDPR, consent for processing EU citizens’ personal data must be informed, specific and freely given. The regulation also confers rights on individuals around their data — such as the ability to receive a copy of their personal information.

It’s those requirements the litigation is focused on, with the cases set to argue that the tech giants’ third party tracking cookies, BlueKai and Krux — trackers that are hosted on scores of popular websites, such as Amazon, Booking.com, Dropbox, Reddit and Spotify to name a few — along with a number of other tracking techniques are being used to misuse Europeans’ data on a massive scale.

Per Oracle marketing materials, its Data Cloud and BlueKai Marketplace provider partners with access to some 2BN global consumer profiles. (Meanwhile, as we reported in June, BlueKai suffered a data breach that exposed billions of those records to the open web.)

While Salesforce claims its marketing cloud ‘interacts’ with more than 3BN browsers and devices monthly.

Both companies have grown their tracking and targeting capabilities via acquisition for years; Oracle bagging BlueKai in 2014 — and Salesforce snaffling Krux in 2016.

 

Discussing the lawsuit in a telephone call with TechCrunch, Dr Rebecca Rumbul, class representative and claimant in England & Wales, said: “There is, I think, no way that any normal person can really give informed consent to the way in which their data is going to be processed by the cookies that have been placed by Oracle and Salesforce.

“When you start digging into it there are numerous, fairly pernicious ways in which these cookies can and probably do operate — such as cookie syncing, and the aggregation of personal data — so there’s really, really serious privacy concerns there.”

The real-time-bidding (RTB) process that the pair’s tracking cookies and techniques feed, enabling the background, high velocity trading of profiles of individual web users as they browse in order to run dynamic ad auctions and serve behavioral ads targeting their interests, has, in recent years, been subject to a number of GDPR complaints, including in the UK.

These complaints argue that RTB’s handling of people’s information is a breach of the regulation because it’s inherently insecure to broadcast data to so many other entities — while, conversely, GDPR bakes in a requirement for privacy by design and default.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office has, meanwhile, accepted for well over a year that adtech has a lawfulness problem. But the regulator has so far sat on its hands, instead of enforcing the law — leaving the complainants dangling. (Last year, Ireland’s DPC opened a formal investigation of Google’s adtech, following a similar complaint, but has yet to issue a single GDPR decision in a cross-border complaint — leading to concerns of an enforcement bottleneck.)

The two lawsuits targeting RTB aren’t focused on the security allegation, per Rumbul, but are mostly concerned with consent and data access rights.

She confirms they opted to litigate rather than trying to try a regulatory complaint route as a way of exercising their rights given the “David vs Goliath” nature of bringing claims against the tech giants in question.

“If I was just one tiny person trying to complaint to Oracle and trying to use the UK Information Commissioner to achieve that… they simply do not have the resources to direct at one complaint from one person against a company like Oracle — in terms of this kind of scale,” Rumbul told TechCrunch.

“In terms of being able to demonstrate harm, that’s quite a lot of work and what you get back in recompense would probably be quite small. It certainly wouldn’t compensate me for the time I would spend on it… Whereas doing it as a representative class action I can represent everyone in the UK that has been affected by this.

“The sums of money then work — in terms of the depths of Oracle’s pockets, the costs of litigation, which are enormous, and the fact that, hopefully, doing it this way, in a very large-scale, very public forum it’s not just about getting money back at the end of it; it’s about trying to achieve more standardized change in the industry.”

“If Salesforce and Oracle are not successful in fighting this then hopefully that send out ripples across the adtech industry as a whole — encouraging those that are using these quite pernicious cookies to change their behaviours,” she added.

The litigation is being funded by Innsworth, a litigation funder which is also funding Walter Merricks’ class action for 46 million consumers against Mastercard in London courts. And the GDPR appears to be helping to change the class action landscape in the UK — as it allows individuals to take private legal action. The framework can also support third parties to bring claims for redress on behalf of individuals. While changes to domestic consumer rights law also appear to be driving class actions.

Commenting in a statement, Ian Garrard, managing director of Innsworth Advisors, said: “The development of class action regimes in the UK and the availability of collective redress in the EU/EEA mean Innsworth can put money to work enabling access to justice for millions of individuals whose personal data has been misused.”

A separate and still ongoing lawsuit in the UK, which is seeking damages from Google on behalf of Safari users whose privacy settings it historically ignored, also looks to have bolstered the prospects of class action style legal actions related to data issues.

While the courts initially tossed the suit last year, the appeals court overturned that ruling — rejecting Google’s argument that UK and EU law requires “proof of causation and consequential damage” in order to bring a claim related to loss of control of data.

The judge said the claimant did not need to prove “pecuniary loss or distress” to recover damages, and also allowed the class to proceed without all the members having the same interest.

Discussing that case, Rumbul suggests a pending final judgement there (likely next year) may have a bearing on whether the lawsuit she’s involved with can be taken forward in the UK.

“I’m very much hoping that the UK judiciary are open to seeing these kind of cases come forward because without these kinds of things as very large class actions it’s almost like closing the door on this whole sphere of litigation. If there’s a legal ruling that says that case can’t go forward and therefore this case can’t go forward I’d be fascinated to understand how the judiciary think we’d have any recourse to these private companies for these kind of actions,” she said.

Asked why the litigation has focused on Oracle and Saleforce, given there are so many firms involved in the adtech pipeline, she said: “I am not saying that they are necessarily the worst or the only companies that are doing this. They are however huge, huge international multimillion-billion dollar companies. And they specifically went out and purchased different bits of adtech software, like BlueKai, in order to bolster their presence in this area — to bolster their own profits.

“This was a strategic business decision that they made to move into this space and become massive players. So in terms of the adtech marketplace they are very, very big players. If they are able to be held to account for this then it will hopefully change the industry as a whole. It will hopefully reduce the places to hide for the other more pernicious cookie manufacturers out there. And obviously they have huge, huge revenues so in terms of targeting people who are doing a lot of harm and that can afford to compensate people these are the right companies to be targeting.”

Rumbul also told us The Privacy Collective is looking to collect stories from web users who feel they have experienced harm related to online tracking.

“There’s plenty of evidence out there to show that how these cookies work means you can have very, very egregious outcomes for people at an individual level,” she added. “Whether that can be related to personal finance, to manipulation of addictive behaviors, whatever, these are all very, very possible — and they cover every aspect of our lives.”

Consumers in England and Wales and the Netherlands are being encouraged to register their support of the actions via The Privacy Collective’s website.

In a statement, Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm, lead lawyer at Brandeis, said: “Your data is being sold off in real-time to the highest bidder, in a flagrant violation of EU data protection regulations. This ad-targeting technology is insidious in that most people are unaware of its impact or the violations of privacy and data rights it entails. Within this adtech environment, Oracle and Salesforce perform activities which violate European privacy rules on a daily basis, but this is the first time they are being held to account. These cases will draw attention to astronomical profits being made from people’s personal information, and the risks to individuals and society of this lack of accountability.”

“Thousands of organisations are processing billions of bid requests each week with at best inconsistent application of adequate technical and organisational measures to secure the data, and with little or no consideration as to the requirements of data protection law about international transfers of personal data. The GDPR gives us the tool to assert individuals’ rights. The class action means we can aggregate the harm done,” added partner Melis Acuner from Cadwalader in another supporting statement.

We reached out to Oracle and Salesforce for comment on the litigation.

Oracle EVP and general counsel, Dorian Daley, said:

The Privacy Collective knowingly filed a meritless action based on deliberate misrepresentations of the facts.  As Oracle previously informed the Privacy Collective, Oracle has no direct role in the real-time bidding process (RTB), has a minimal data footprint in the EU, and has a comprehensive GDPR compliance program. Despite Oracle’s fulsome explanation, the Privacy Collective has decided to pursue its shake-down through litigation filed in bad faith.  Oracle will vigorously defend against these baseless claims.

A spokeswoman for Salesforce sent us this statement:

At Salesforce, Trust is our #1 value and nothing is more important to us than the privacy and security of our corporate customers’ data. We design and build our services with privacy at the forefront, providing our corporate customers with tools to help them comply with their own obligations under applicable privacy laws — including the EU GDPR — to preserve the privacy rights of their own customers.

Salesforce and another Data Management Platform provider, have received a privacy related complaint from a Dutch group called The Privacy Collective. The claim applies to the Salesforce Audience Studio service and does not relate to any other Salesforce service.

Salesforce disagrees with the allegations and intends to demonstrate they are without merit.

Our comprehensive privacy program provides tools to help our customers preserve the privacy rights of their own customers. To read more about the tools we provide our corporate customers and our commitment to privacy, visit salesforce.com/privacy/products/

Elegant in Erie: As Oakwood’s very successful Erie Highlands runs out of room, two designer show homes come on the market

This post was originally published on this site

Nobody could have guessed when Oakwood Homes launched its master-planned Erie Highlands neighborhood overlooking the town of Erie, that six buyers would spend more than $1 million to be there before its final homes were sold.

All of those sales were relatively recent — as Oakwood now moves to close out the community, putting its two designer show homes on the market; each of them with views of the Indian Peaks, and each with finished walkout basement space that greatly enhances their experience.

All of the factors that turned Erie Highlands into such a popular area over the past few years are playing into those final opportunities, says Ryan Delp, Regional Sales Manager for Oakwood. “Everyone wants to be in Erie now,” he adds.

Reasons why include the commuter setting — 25 minutes from downtown Denver; 20 minutes from Boulder’s tech campuses, from where even at the prices Oakwood’s designs have hit recently, they look like dollar values just in their size and features.

And then there is Erie’s own dining scene in its historic downtown, a mile north; a nice pool and clubhouse (it’s reopened now, and you can arrange a socially distanced tour); trails and parks including a new one being completed now; and the great school scene here.

Erie High, two minutes east, has an 8-for-10 rating with GreatSchools.org; higher still in college prep and student progress; and new Soaring Heights PK-thru-8, just as close.

Oakwood is staging special open houses for the two show homes, today and tomorrow, 11-to-1, including for a 5-bedroom Saint Regis ranch design at 68 Pear Lake Court, with four baths, a 3-car ‘smart garage,’ a custom deck overlooking the view, and over 4,700 square feet of finished area, including on the walkout.

As a closeout special, Oakwood’s taken the price down from $995,000 to $950,000.

You’ll also tour a family-sized Broadmoor 2-story plan, six bedrooms and four baths, over 4,300 finished square feet including a spectacular master with ‘car wash’ shower, plus a covered deck and 3-car garage. It was to be listed at $1,155,000 but has been reduced to $1,035,000 for the closeout.

Delp notes that Erie Highlands has hit those high prices because of a lower density feel than some other new communities show.  That’s also fueled a strong resale market in the neighborhood.

Both homes will benefit from Oakwood’s early adoption of fiber-optic wiring technology for Erie Highlands.

The news and editorial staffs of The Denver Post had no role in this post’s preparation.