Google to Pay $392m in Landmark Privacy Case

Google will pay $391.5m to settle a lawsuit filed by dozens of US attorneys general over its location tracking practices.

The suit was filed after an Associated Press article back in 2018 revealed that Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.”

It noted that although the “Location History” setting is off by default and must be enabled by users, this lulled them into a false sense of security about their privacy. That’s because another setting, “Web & App Activity” is automatically on when users set up a Google account, including for Android devices.

The feature meant that Google continued to harvest location data without the knowledge of most consumers, it was claimed.

The Connecticut Office of the Attorney General (OAG) argued that location data is vital to Google’s digital ads business but is also among the most sensitive data it collects from users, potentially exposing their identity, routines and other personal details.

The settlement will limit Google’s use and storage of location data and force the tech giant to make its account controls more user-friendly. It also stipulates that the firm has to:

  • Show additional info to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting on or off
  • Make information about location tracking transparent for users
  • Maintain a dedicated webpage providing detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it is used

Connecticut attorney general, William Tong, argued that the settlement was a “historic win” for consumers.

“Our investigation found that Google continued to collect this personal information even after consumers told them not to. That is an unacceptable invasion of consumer privacy and a violation of state law,” he said.

“People deserve to have greater control over – and understanding of – how their data is being used. My office has been at the forefront of that effort, and we will continue to take on big tech as we move to enforce Connecticut’s new consumer privacy law.”

However, some experts argued that the settlement was unsatisfactory.

Chris McLellan, director of operations at the non-profit Data Collaboration Alliance, said that consumers ultimately lose out as large tech firms can simply absorb such financial payouts as a cost of doing business.

“Fines aren’t the answer. We need to look towards encouraging the use of new technologies, standards and methodologies that help address the root causes of data chaos in the first place – silos and copies,” McLellan added.

“How data rights and data ownership evolve will determine the winners and losers in our future economy. We are now witnessing a fight to own the future by owning data.”

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