Alphabet agrees to pay $391.5m settlement after 40 US states sued it for misleading consumers over location tracking practices
Alphabet’s Google has reached an expensive settlement with forty US states, over its location tracking practices.
The location tracking issue has been haunting Google as far back as 2014. But matters came to a head in 2018 when an investigation by the Associated Press found that a number of Google services running on Android and Apple devices determine the user’s location and store it, even when Google’s “Location History” setting was switched off.
That discovery immediately resulted in lawsuits and Arizona’s attorney general also filed a similar lawsuit in 2020 over the matter.
And the tracking issue was also noticed on this side on the pond.
In November 2018 Google was accused of being misleading about location tracking, after consumer groups from seven European nations asked their privacy regulators to take action against the search engine giant.
Consumer groups from the Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden, all filed GDPR complaints against Google’s location tracking.
They alleged that Google was tracking the movements of millions of users in breach of the European Union’s privacy laws.
Google made some changes however.
In June 2020 Google said it would automatically delete user’s website searches and visits, as well as some location data, after 18 months.
But the changes will only apply to new accounts. Existing users would have to adjust their settings when they are shown prompts.
Google’s actions did not impress the attorneys general of four US states, and they allege that Google misled users to believe that once they turned their location history off, their whereabouts would no longer be tracked.
For example, Washington DC Attorney General Karl A. Racine alleged Google was “deceiving and manipulating consumers to gain access to their location data, including making it nearly impossible for users to stop their location from being tracked.”
In January 2022 the group of attorneys general (AG) in the US sued Google in separate lawsuits, alleging ‘deceptive’ location tracking practices that invaded users’ privacy.
Google’s expensive $391.5 million settlement with 40 states was confirmed in a release from the office of Pennsylvania attorney general and governor-elect Josh Shapiro.
It is being described it as the largest multi-state privacy settlement in US history.
“Right now, consumers are beholden to Google’s promise that Big Tech knows what’s best for users’ data,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Google’s impact on the lives of everyday Americans is pervasive – they have a responsibility to consumers to ensure that the data they collect is only obtained with express consent from the user. My office will continue to fight to ensure consumers can control when and how their personal data is collected.”
Under the settlement, Google has agreed to a series of provisions designed to give consumers more transparency into Google’s practices, including:
- Requiring Google to show additional information to users whenever they turn an account setting “on” or “off”;
- Making key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden);
- and Creating an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage where users can get detailed information about the type(s) of location data Google collects and how it’s used.
“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google spokesperson José Castañeda told CNN Business.