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Google to pay more than $391 million over ‘crafty and deceptive’ location tracking practices

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Photo: The Pancake of Heaven!

It’s great progress that 40 state attorneys general have reached a $391.5 million settlement with Google over its location tracking practices.

The Big Four – Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook – have tremendous power over our personal information and more needs to be done to rein them in.

Google misled its users into thinking they had turned off location tracking in their account settings, when Google actually continued to collect their location information, according to the settlement. In addition to paying money, Google has agreed to improve its location tracking disclosures and user controls starting in 2023.

“For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. “They have been crafty and deceptive. Consumers thought they had turned off their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”

Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects to build detailed user profiles and target ads.

The settlement requires Google to:

  1. Show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off.”
  2. Make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (for example, not hidden).
  3. Give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage.

The attorneys general opened the Google investigation following a 2018 Associated Press article that revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.”

The article focused on two Google account settings: Location History and Web & App Activity. Location History is “off” unless a user turns on the setting, but Web & App Activity, a separate account setting, is automatically “on” when users set up a Google account, including all Android users.

I appreciate attorneys general stepping up and taking this action. Congress should have already developed privacy regulations for the Big Four, but with a divided Congress, which will be even more divided after the midterm elections, its ability to protect our personal data will likely continue to lag.

The Big Four treat consumers like commodities, exploiting people’s personal data and trying their best to keep what they do hidden, said Marta L. Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports in her book “Buyer Aware: Harnessing Our Consumer Power for a Safe, Fair, and Transparent Marketplace.”

Get a copy of her book to learn more about this. The scope of the problem is startling and disturbing.

Comments

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azure

Thanks for this article. Definitely & strongly agree w/you regarding the need for Congress to act and legislate in the public's interest, not corporate interests in profits no matter what the cost to users. The EU is way ahead of the US on this important matter.

Not sure I think a settlement is the way to go through, or it should be a settlement that includes corporate defendants' agreement that the big Four will allow inspection for compliance for the next 3 year or so, with monetary & other penalities mandated if there's continued non-compliance. Otherwise, it's the usual corporate buying themselves out of true accountability & change. When the EU filed & won its anti-trust litigation against Microsoft (by contrast as soon as Bush II, Cheney, Inc took office he/they "settled" --effectively dropped-- the US anti-trust litigation against Microsoft), it had to file a 2nd lawsuit to enforce the agreement/judgment as Microsoft just went on its merry way, doing what it had been doing before. There needs to be a judgment or agreement with ongoing accountability re: compliance. Otherwise, the settlement is just a slap on the wrist & a deduction on the corporate tax return(s).

ri

Hi azure,

There often is a compliance portion of settlements like this. However, I didn't see that listed in the statement from the Oregon attorney general. Also, I looked through other articles on the settlement and I didn't see the usual compliance portion.

Yes, we have a long way to go to get Google and the other big tech companies better regulated.

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