Google has agreed to pay $391.5 million to settle with 40 US states for misleading users about the collection of personal location data, making it the largest attorney general-led consumer privacy settlement ever, according to the US Department of Justice.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who led the settlement along with Nebraska AG Doug Peterson, pointed out on Tuesday, November 15, that for years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy.
“Google misled its users into thinking they had turned off location tracking in their account settings, when, in fact, Google continued to collect their location information. In addition to the multimillion-dollar settlement, as part of the negotiations with the AGs, Google has agreed to significantly improve its location tracking disclosures and user controls starting in 2023.” reads the DoJ’s press release.
The authorities started the investigation into Google collection practice following a 2018 Associated Press article that revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.”
According to the article, there are two settings responsible for the location data collection, the “Location History” and “Web & App Activity”. The former is “off” by default while the latter is automatically enabled when users set up a Google account, including all Android users.
Location data represent the core of the digital advertising business of the IT giant. However, location data can be used to expose a person’s identity and routines, and even get personal details.
Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location tracking practices since at least 2014. The DOJ said Google confused its users about the use of the account and device settings to limit Google’s location tracking.
The settlement requires Google to be more transparent about its practices. In particular, Google must:
-Show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off”;
-Make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden); and
-Give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage.
Following the settlement, Google announced it has introduced more transparency and tools to help users manage their data and minimize the data it collects.
Below are the measures announced by the company:
-Launched auto-delete controls, a first in the industry, and turned them on by default for all new users, giving you the ability to automatically delete data on a rolling basis and only keep 3, 18 or 36 months worth of data at a time.
-Developed easy-to-understand settings like Incognito mode on Google Maps, preventing searches or places you navigate to from being saved to your account.
-Introduced more transparency tools, including Your Data in Maps and Search, which lets you quickly access your key location settings right from our core products.