Google sued by D.C. and three states after allegedly misleading consumers about location tracking

Google sued by D.C. and three states after allegedly misleading consumers about location tracking
The New York Times today reported that Google is being sued by the attorneys general of Washington D.C., Indiana, Texas, and the state of Washington over the methods it employs to collect and use location data from Android users. In the suit filed by Washington D.C. attorney general Karl A. Racine, the District says that Google is tricking its users into sharing their location data.

The lawsuit filed by Washington D.C. says that Google "has systematically deceived consumers about how their locations are tracked" on Android handsets. In addition, the suit states that Google has made it "nearly impossible" for users to stop Google from tracking them. Indiana attorney general Todd Rokita says that "Google has prioritized profits over people. It has prioritized financial earnings over following the law."

Google allegedly lied by telling consumers that certain apps wouldn't work without location data

AG Racine says that Google makes it seem as though consumers can stop their locations from getting tracked by changing the settings on their phones. But the attorney general says that regardless of the settings and changes made by Android users, their location settings are still being collected by Google.

Racine states, "Google falsely led consumers to believe that changing their account and device settings would allow customers to protect their privacy and control what personal data the company could access. The truth is that contrary to Google's representations it continues to systematically surveil customers and profit from customer data." He is asking for a court order that would stop Google from committing "unlawful practices."

More importantly, as far as Google is concerned, the AG of Washington D.C. wants the court to order Google to disgorge profits it made as a result of its illegal behavior. The suit filed by Washington D.C. said that Google falsely told users that if location services were disabled, certain Google apps would not work properly even though that wasn't the case. 

Back in 2018, we passed along a report from the Associated Press (AP) that explained how even with the location history setting turned off, Google continues to track users' locations in order to deliver weather updates to areas that are relevant to users. At that time, a Google spokesman said, "Location History is a Google product that is entirely opt-in, and users have the controls to edit, delete, or turn it off at any time [...] we make sure Location History users know that when they disable the product, we continue to use location to improve the Google experience when they do things like perform a Google search or use Google for driving directions."

What does Google say to defend itself?

Google spokesman José Castañeda said, "The Attorneys General are bringing a case based on inaccurate claims and outdated assertions about our settings. 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."

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The attorneys general also referred to "deceptive design methods" called "dark patterns" used to stop users from protecting their privacy in order to stop users from protecting their privacy. Among things that they claim Google uses to get its way are "repeated nudging, misleading pressure tactics, and evasive and deceptive descriptions of features and settings." The four suits are filed under local consumer protection laws and seek to fine Google, and to stop its practice of collecting location data collection for users who have opted out.
Google alone can keep an army of attorneys well-fed for years. Just last Friday, the company asked a federal court to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit filed against it by several states including Texas. The issue in this suit revolves around the system that publishers use to market ad space to advertisers. The four aforementioned attorney generals have also worked together in filing similar antitrust actions against the company.

Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon are under pressure from lawmakers who are trying to prevent these large tech firms from violating antitrust laws. By the way, if you really want Google to stop tracking you, check out this story from a couple of years ago.

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