Yang Cheong-sam, director of the Personal Information Protection Commission’s investigation and coordination bureau, announces measures against Google and Meta on Wednesday for collecting personal information without users’ consent. Photo by Yonhap

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SEOUL, Sept. 14 (UPI) — South Korea has fined U.S. tech giants Meta and Google a combined $71.8 million for collecting user information without consent and using it for customized advertisements, regulators announced Wednesday.

The country’s Personal Information Protection Commission hit Google with a $49.7 million fine and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, $22.1 million.

The penalties are the highest ever by South Korea for violations of data protection laws, the regulatory watchdog said in a statement.

The commission said that Google and Meta did not clearly inform users or obtain their consent to collect and analyze personal online usage data, which was then utilized to create customized advertisements.

According to the watchdog, more than 82% of Google users and 98% of Meta users in South Korea have had their browsing and purchasing data from third-party sites harvested by the companies without their knowledge.

Yoon Jong-in, chairman of the PIPC, said that the accumulated data represents “a risk of serious infringement of individual privacy.”

Customers are seen at Meta’s first brick-and-mortar retail store in Burlingame, Calif., on May 9. The company owns Facebook and Instagram. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI

The regulators also ordered Google and Meta to clearly inform users when their information is being collected and used and to obtain their consent in a way that enables them to maintain their right to privacy.

Both companies disagreed with Wednesday’s ruling.

“While we respect the PIPC’s decision, we are confident that we work with our clients in a legally compliant way that meets the processes required by local regulations,” a Meta spokesman said in a statement emailed to UPI.

“As such, we do not agree with the PIPC’s decision, and will be open to all options including seeking a ruling from the court.”

Google expressed “deep regrets” after the announcement and said it would continue to communicate with the commission.

Wednesday’s announcement is not the first time South Korean regulators have tangled with U.S. tech powerhouses. Last September, the country’s antitrust watchdog fined Google nearly $180 million for abusing its dominance in the mobile operating systems and app markets.

South Korean legislators also passed a groundbreaking law last year that prevents Google and Apple from forcing mobile developers to use their proprietary payment channels for in-app purchases.

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