France’s Privacy Watchdog Fines Microsoft 60 Million Euros Over Advertising Cookies

France’s privacy watchdog announced Thursday that it had fined Microsoft 60 million euros ($64 million) for imposing advertising cookies on its users.

The National Commission for Technology and Freedoms (CNIL), the largest penalty imposed in 2022, ruled that Microsoft’s search engine Bing did not have a system that allowed users to reject cookies or accept them.

According to the French regulator, “when users visited this site, cookies were deposited on their terminal without their consent, while these cookies were used, among others, for advertising purposes.” It also “observed that there was no button allowing to refuse the deposit of cookies as easily as accepting it.”

The CNIL stated that the fine was justified partly because of indirect advertising profits generated by cookies, which are tiny data files that track internet browsing.

Bing provided a button that allowed users to accept all cookies immediately. However, they needed to click two times to reject them. The company was given three months to correct the problem and could face a penalty of up to 60,000 euros per calendar day. Microsoft Ireland, where the company maintains its European base, was subject to the fine.

Microsoft said it “introduced key changes to our cookie practices even before this investigation started.” It stated that “We continue to respectfully be concerned with the CNIL’s position on advertising fraud” and added that the French watchdog’s “position will harm French individuals and businesses.”

Cookies are stored on a user’s computer whenever they visit a website. This allows web browsers to save information about that session.

These are extremely valuable for tech platforms because they allow you to personalize advertising, which is the primary source of revenue for companies like Google and Facebook. Privacy advocates, however, have been resisting this for a long time.

Internet companies are now required to obtain consent from users before installing any cookies. This is in line with the 2018 European Union law on personal data.

The CNIL announced last year that it would conduct a year-long investigation into sites that do not follow the rules regarding web cookies.

The French regulator sanctioned Google and Facebook with fines of 60 million euros and 150 million euros, respectively, for similar violations related to their use of cookies.

These two companies are also under scrutiny for their practice of sending personal data from EU residents to servers in America. Tech giants are still facing a host of cases in Europe.

The European data watchdog issued binding decisions earlier this month regarding the processing of personal data by Meta (the owner of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp).

The European Data Protection Supervisor stated that the rulings concern Meta’s use of data for targeted advertising. However, it did not provide details or recommend fines.

This latest case comes after privacy group Noyb complained that Meta’s three apps don’t comply with Europe’s strict data protection rules.

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