Google to pay US$391 million for misleading Android users on location tracking

Google has agreed to pay US$391.5 million and to be more upfront with consumers about its privacy and data capture practices in a settlement with 40 U.S. states.

The deal, announced Monday, comes after the states’ Attorneys General found Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about location tracking practices in Android and other Google services since at least 2014.

Google caused users to be confused about the scope of Android’s Location History setting,  the states said. While Location History is off by default, users didn’t realize a separate Web & App Activity setting existed, is on by default and collected location information which was sent to Google.

As part of the settlement Google agreed

  • to show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off”;
  • to make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden); and
  • to give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used on an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage.

The settlement also limits Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google account controls to be more user-friendly.

Earlier this year, Google changed the Web & App Activity controls for paid users of Google Workspace. That feature is now being split up into two settings, one still called “Web & App Activity” and another called “Search history.” However, according to news reports, Google took taking advantage of this settings split to re-enable some tracking features, even if users had previously opted out. The settlement means Google will have to be clearer on what its settings do.

Related content: Tim Hortons app slammed for location tracking 

“Google makes the majority of its revenue from using the personal data of those who search in its browsers and use its apps,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “The company’s online reach enables it to target consumers without the consumer’s knowledge or permission. However, the transparency requirements of this settlement will ensure that Google not only makes users aware of how their location data is being used, but also how to change their account settings if they wish to disable location-related account settings, delete the data collected and set data retention limits.”

Location data is a key part of Google’s digital advertising business, the states said. Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects to build detailed user profiles and target ads on behalf of its advertising customers. Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects. Even a limited amount of location data can expose a person’s identity and routines, and can be used to infer personal details.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer. Former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, Howard has written for several of ITWC's sister publications, including Before arriving at ITWC he served as a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times.

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