Google to pay $93M over alleged location privacy deceptions

Google has agreed to pay $93 million in a settlement to quash accusations that it tracked users’ location history even if they switched off the feature. The settlement was reached with the Department of Justice in California, which brought the original complaint against the tech giant.

The sum is supposed to cover allegations stemming from the years-long investigation into Google’s location-privacy practices, which violated California consumer protection laws.

Google was deceiving users by collecting, storing, and using their location data for consumer profiling and advertising purposes without informed consent, the complaint said.

Google has also agreed “to accept strong injunctive terms to deter future misconduct.”

“Our investigation revealed that Google was telling its users one thing – that it would no longer track their location once they opted out – but doing the opposite and continuing to track its users’ movements for its own commercial gain. That’s unacceptable, and we’re holding Google accountable with today’s settlement,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Google deceived users in numerous ways regarding how it collected, stored, and used a person’s location data, the complaint filed by Bonta alleges.

One example was that Google falsely told users that if they turned off the “Location History” setting the tech giant would not store their location data. However, even when a user turned Location History off, Google allegedly continued to collect and store that user’s location data through other sources.

Google also seemingly deceived users about their ability to opt out of advertisements targeted to their location.

The majority of Google’s revenue stream comes from advertising. Location-based advertising is a critical feature that allows advertisers to market to users based on their geographical locations. The tech giant uses this data to build behavioral profiles for ad-serving, Bonta noted.

Alphabet reported that in 2022, it had revenues of over $280 billion, and over $220 billion of that was attributable to Google’s advertising.

“For years, Google promised its users that if they turned off the ‘Location History’ setting, then Google would not store their location data,” the complaint said. “It made its promise explicit in clear language on the help page for Location History that left no room for ambiguity.”

“This statement was clear and direct, and it was also false. Even when a user turned Location History off, Google continued to collect and store that user’s location data,” it continues.

A Google spokesperson pointed to its blog post, which announced the introduction of transparency tools, and told the Guardian: “Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this matter, which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago.”

The new requirements for Google to protect the privacy interests of Californian users are as follows:

The settlement amounts to about 0.005% of the latest Alphabet (Google) market value, as the tech giant’s capitalization reached $1.747 trillion. At an annual high, the stock price was unaffected by the news.

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