Google has agreed to a $391.5 million privacy settlement, the largest in U.S. history, with 40 state attorneys general regarding allegations that it misled users into thinking they had location tracking turned off while still collecting their information. Under the terms of the settlement, Google will make its location tracking disclosures clearer beginning in 2023.
The investigation, which was led by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, was opened following a 2018 Associated Press article that examined Google’s Location History and Web & App Activity. The article reportedly found that while Location History is off unless a user turns on the setting, Web & App Activity is automatically on when users set up a Google account, including any Android phone.
The attorneys general found that this violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location tracking practices since at least 2014. As a result, Google has agreed to make changes to its policies including:
- 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.
The settlement also put limits on Google’s uses and storage of certain types of location data. This information is key to Google’s ad targeting capabilities, and the Oregon Attorney General’s Office noted that “location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects.”
“For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy,” said Rosenblum in a statement. “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.”
In October, Google separately settled a similar location tracking lawsuit with Arizona for $85 million. The tech giant still faces additional lawsuits brought by Washington, D.C., Indiana and Texas. Other states leading the investigation that led to the current settlement include Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.