Three states and the District of Columbia are suing Google over its location privacy practices, alleging a history of deceptive conduct designed to protect its advertising business.
Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced the trial Monday morning.
“Google falsely misled consumers into believing that changing their account and device settings would allow customers to protect their privacy and control what personal data the company could access,” says Racine. “The truth is that contrary to Google’s portrayals, it continues to systematically monitor customers and profit from customer data.”
the 37 page complaint alleges that Google repeatedly violated the CDs Consumer Protection Procedures Act by obfuscating the amount of location data it collects and its options for limiting this through a variety of deceptive “dark pattern” interfaces.
These costumes rely heavily on a 2018 Associated Press article who documented how Android and iPhone users who had disabled Google Location History setting their location was still being tracked less frequently via Google’s “Web & App Activity”.”
The parties cite the press setback Google suffered after this story and cite Google employees’ own embarrassed reactions. For example, one admitted that “I had no idea web and app activity had anything to do with location.”
All four complaints seek a permanent ban on these practices and ask Google to return its profits from this conduct; the district and the state of Washington are also seeking reimbursement for “any algorithms developed using this data.”
Google later changed its documentation for this feature, and in 2019 allowed users to set automatic deletion periods for location and web and app activity features. In 2020, it made automatic deletion after 18 months the default on all new accounts.
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Google also offers several controls to fine-tune the accuracy of its location tracking and edit or delete some or all of these records, but how they work can get quite complex. For example, while Google Maps offers a simple timeline of your location history if you have it enabled, seeing your location data in “Web & App Activity” seems to require inspecting individual data points in Google’s My Activity page for your account.
This lawsuit, like many location privacy discussions, does not address an even more common form of tracking that you can’t control. Cellular carriers know your location through their cell sites and retain that history for an extended period of time: one year at Verizon, two years at T-Mobile, and from 13 months to 5 years at AT&T— without allowing you to inspect, modify or delete this information.
We have emailed Google for a response and will update if we receive a response.
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