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Google changes user data practices to end German antitrust probe

FILE PHOTO: Logo is pictured at Google's European Engineering Center in Zurich

By Friederike Heine

BERLIN (Reuters) -Alphabet unit Google has agreed to change its user data practices to end a German antitrust investigation aimed at curbing its data-driven market power, the German cartel office said on Thursday.

The German antitrust watchdog in January issued a charge sheet known as a statement of objections to Google over its data processing terms, saying that users were not given sufficient choice as to whether and to what extent they agree to the far-reaching processing of their data across the company's services.

Tech giants rely on selling targeted advertising based on the massive amounts of data they gather about users, a lucrative business model now in regulators' crosshairs around the world.

The German regulator said Google's commitments would give users more choice on how their data is used across the company's platforms.

"In the future users of Google services will have a much better choice as to what happens to their data, how Google can use them and whether their data may be used across services," Andreas Mundt, president of the cartel office, said in a statement.

"This not only protects the users' right to determine the use of their data, but also curbs Google's data-driven market power," he said.

Google's commitment covers more than 25 other services including Gmail, Google News, Assistant, Contacts and Google TV.

It does not apply to Google Shopping, Google Play, Google Maps, Google Search, YouTube, Google Android, Google Chrome and Google's online advertising services, all of which are subject to a new EU legislation called the Digital Markets Act which has similar obligations.

The German competition authority has ramped up its scrutiny of Big Tech since it acquired sweeping powers called Section 19a GWB in 2021 which allows it to investigate and ban certain types of practices by companies considered to have to have paramount significance and cross-market power.

That has triggered investigations into Amazon, Meta Platforms and Apple.

(Writing by Matthias Williams and Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Friederike Heine and Mark Potter)