Google Sued over 'Deceptive' Location Tracking

Google is being sued in the US over accusations it deceived people about how to control location tracking. 

Four Attorneys General (AG) from the District of Columbia and the states of Indiana, Texas, and Washington have filed separate lawsuits against Google for allegedly misleading its users into believing that they are no longer tracking their location when they deliberately pause the “Location History” setting on mobile devices.

All four AG’s allege that users are still being tracked by Google without them knowing unless they also turn off the location settings

“Since at least 2014, Google has deceived consumers regarding how their location is tracked and used by the Company and consumers’ ability to protect their privacy by stopping this tracking.... Google leads consumers to believe that consumers are in control of whether Google collects and retains information about their location and how that information is used. In reality, consumers who use Google products cannot prevent Google from collecting, storing, and profiting from their location.” says the Report from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Google is accused  of using so-called Dark Patterns, marketing techniques that deliberately confuse users and a study carried out by researchers at Princeton University found up to two billion Android and Apple devices could be affected. 

The court filing claims thar for Google user to turn off Location History when using Google Maps or Search was insufficient, since a as a separate setting, Web and App Activity continued to log location and other personal data. In response, Google says these claims are inaccurate and outdated and describes Web & App Activity as a way to personalise experiences for users by saving searches and activity in a user’s account. 

"Google has relied on, and continues to rely on, deceptive and unfair practices that make it difficult for users to decline location tracking or to evaluate the data collection and processing to which they are purportedly consenting," the legal action alleges.

Google told reporters the case was based "on inaccurate claims and outdated assertions about our settings".
A representative added: "We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data.... We will vigorously defend ourselves and set the record straight."

The legal action claims Google's policies contained other "misleading, ambiguous and incomplete descriptions... but guarantee that consumers will not understand when their location is collected and retained by Google or for what purposes". It refers to dark patterns, design choices that alter users' decision-making for the designer's benefit - such as, complicated navigation menus, visual misdirection, confusing wording and repeated nudging towards a particular outcome.

Data regulators are increasingly focusing on these practices and Google faces a raft of other legal actions in the US, including:

  • In May 2020, Arizona filed a legal action over the same issue.
  • In December 2020, multiple US states sued over the price and process of advertising auctions.
  • In October 2020, the US Justice Department alleged Google had a monopoly over search and search advertising.

In a separate lawsuit, the US justice department in October 2020 alleged the tech company abused its position to maintain an illegal monopoly over search and search advertising. “Two decades ago, Google became the darling of Silicon Valley as a scrappy startup with an innovative way to search the emerging Internet. That Google is long gone,” says the Justice Department.

US Dept. of Justice:      Office of the Attorney General:        BBC:     Silicon:     MarwareBytes:      Guardian:    

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