Google location tracking results in largest privacy settlement ever

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Oregon's Attorney General has announced the most significant consumer privacy settlement in US history over location tracking practices, due to Google's prior practices.

Google
Google


The US Department of Justice announced the settlement on Monday, which totals $391.5 million. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and 39 other state attorneys were involved in the case.

Through AG Rosenblum and Nebraska AG Doug Peterson, Oregon led the bipartisan case and will receive $14,800,563.

According to the settlement, Google misled its users into thinking they had turned off location tracking in their account settings. Instead, the company continued to collect location data despite the setting.

As part of the settlement, Google agreed to improve its location tracking disclosures, and user controls starting in 2023.

The attorneys general opened the Google case after an investigation in August 2018 revealed that company tracks users even when they enable a setting that told Google not to track them.

Five days after the investigative report, Google confirmed it was happening. The company didn't change its data collection practices, but instead changed the language on its support page to be less deceptive.

Two Google account settings were part of the case: Location History and Web & App Activity. Location History is "off" unless a user enables the setting, but Web & App Activity, a separate account setting, is automatically "on" when users set up a Google account.

The attorneys general found that Google had violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location-tracking practices since at least 2014.

"For years, Google has prioritized profit over their users' privacy," said Attorney General 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."

The settlement also requires Google to be more transparent about its data collection. Notably, the company has to provide additional information to users whenever they activate or deactivate specific settings and give users detailed information about the types of location data that Google collects.

Besides the settlement, governments have set up task forces surrounding privacy legislation. For example, in 2019, Attorney General Rosenblum formed the Oregon Consumer Privacy Task Force to handle privacy laws.

The task force plans to introduce consumer data privacy legislation in 2023. Consumers will have more control over their data if the bill is successful.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 6
    JP234JP234 Posts: 526member
    OK, spare me the details. Tell me how to get my money!
    JaiOh81watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 6
    It’s their willingness to be deceptive which is noteworthy. Intentionally trying to fool people, the users of their software (but not, as we now, their customers, who are the advertisers). 
    FileMakerFellerbadmonkwilliamlondonqwerty52watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 6
    The penalty seems a bit low. It might be the largest ever payout, but it's also the largest ever infringement.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 6
    davidwdavidw Posts: 1,685member
    >The attorneys general found that Google had violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location-tracking practices since at least 2014. <

    This was going on since 2014? You mean that Google didn't learn their lesson when they were fined a record breaking (at the time) $22.5M in 2012, for bypassing Safari browser default setting of not allowing third party cookies for tracking purposes. Unbeknownst to the user.

    Even though the Chairman of the FTC, which levied the record breaking civil penalty against Google, had this to say about it  .......

    “The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC.  “No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place.”


    https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2012/08/google-will-pay-225-million-settle-ftc-charges-it-misrepresented-privacy-assurances-users-apples



    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 6
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,469member
    There needs to be an end to companies purposely styling their device user settings to put toggles under different headings that are related to the same function. Google has been horrible about it.  You think you've turned something on/off, but weren't aware of a similar toggle in a different menu that also needs to be on/off to cover it entirely. It's no accident that settings are strewn across several sub-menus. Companies hope you miss one, and while hopeful I'm not convinced that relatively minor fines will be enough for it to stop. This one should have been higher IMO, but I get the gist the AG's were more interested in a win, no matter how ineffective, than making sure no company ever did anything similar. Political PR was probably more important than the amount of the fine.

    FWIW Apple too tends to do the same scattering of settings. When I set up my Apple TV I think I had to go to three different menu areas to find settings related to my privacy in order to turn off data sharing with Apple totally.  Based on some recent articles I might not have accomplished what I wanted to anyway, Apple may still be collecting user data via Analytics. 

    There was also a user agreement for some web service I took the time to read recently. It included four different permission boxes, two of which at first glance seemed harmless and enabled user-friendly features, but on deeper reading turned out to be me agreeing to different pieces of personal data collection, use, and sharing (selling) to 3rd parties. 
    edited November 15 JP234muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 6 of 6
    davidwdavidw Posts: 1,685member
    gatorguy said:
    There needs to be an end to companies purposely styling their device user settings to put toggles under different headings that are related to the same function. Google has been horrible about it.  You think you've turned something on/off, but weren't aware of a similar toggle in a different menu that also needs to be on/off to cover it entirely. It's no accident that settings are strewn across several sub-menus. Companies hope you miss one, and while hopeful I'm not convinced that relatively minor fines will be enough for it to stop. This one should have been higher IMO, but I get the gist the AG's were more interested in a win, no matter how ineffective, than making sure no company ever did anything similar. Political PR was probably more important than the amount of the fine.

    FWIW Apple too tends to do the same scattering of settings. When I set up my Apple TV I think I had to go to three different menu areas to find settings related to my privacy in order to turn off data sharing with Apple totally.  Based on some recent articles I might not have accomplished what I wanted to anyway, Apple may still be collecting user data via Analytics. 

    There was also a user agreement for some web service I took the time to read recently. It included four different permission boxes, two of which at first glance seemed harmless and enabled user-friendly features, but on deeper reading turned out to be me agreeing to different pieces of personal data collection, use, and sharing (selling) to 3rd parties. 

    The record fine that Google had to pay was for misleading their users into thinking that all they needed to do to disable location tracking, was to disable this one setting. That just happened to be named .... Location History. Google could had made it so that 5 settings across 3 menu pages, had to be disabled in order to completely disable location tracking and there would be zero problem with that. So long as Google informed their users that wanted location tracking disabled, that these 5 settings had to be toggled off.

    But that's not what they did. Google deliberately made their users think that by disabling Location History, Google was no longer tracking their location. But all the time, Google was still secretly recording location data on a setting that was on by default. And it took four years for someone to find this out. One would think that if Google wasn't  intentionally trying to hide this secret location tracking, someone would have known about it way sooner than 4 years. 


    edited November 15 muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
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