Google did not inform users that their web and app activity tracked location data
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James as part of a coalition of 40 attorneys general today got $391.5 million from Google for misleading millions of users about its location data tracking. A multistate investigation found that Google failed to inform users that location services were automatically enabled for web and app activity. Millions of consumers with Google Accounts who used Google apps, such as Google Maps, Google Search, Google Chrome, and other Google apps, were unaware that their location was being tracked. Google told consumers they could turn off location tracking under “location history” in their settings, but did not inform consumers that their “Web & App Activity” setting also collects location data. . Following today’s landmark $391.5 million deal with Google, the tech company must also reform its practices to be more transparent with consumers. New York will receive more than $20 million from the deal.
“Big tech companies shouldn’t collect consumer data without their knowledge or consent,” said Attorney General James. “Google quietly tracked its users for profit and today they are held accountable. Each individual should be able to make their own decisions about their data and how it is used. We will continue to hold users accountable. companies that break the law and to protect consumers from companies that put profits before people.”
Location data is a key part of Google’s digital advertising business. Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects to create detailed user profiles and target ads on behalf of its advertising clients. Location data is some of the most sensitive and valuable personal information that Google collects. Even a limited amount of location data can reveal a person’s identity and routines and can be used to infer personal details.
The multistate coalition has launched an investigation into Google following a 2018 Associated Press article that found the company was tracking users’ locations even when they opted out. Google has two location account settings: “Location History” and “Web & App Activity”. Location History is disabled unless a user enables the setting, but Web & App Activity, a separate account setting, is automatically enabled when users set up a Google Account, including all Android phone users. The multistate coalition found that Google misled consumers into believing that only the “Location History” setting tracks location and failing to inform users that the “Web & App Activity” setting also tracked location data. Google has confused users about the scope of the “Location History” setting, whether the “Web & App Activity” setting exists and collects location information, and to what extent consumers who use Google products and services could limit Google’s location. tracking by adjusting their account and device settings.
Today’s agreement requires Google to be more transparent with consumers. As a result of today’s agreement, Google will:
• Display additional information to users each time they enable or disable a location-related account setting;
• Make key geolocation information inescapable to users (ie not hidden); and
• Provide users with detailed information about the types of location data that Google collects and how it is used on an enhanced “Location Technologies” web page.
Joining Attorney General James in today’s agreement are the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada , New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
This matter was handled by Deputy Bureau Chief Clark Russell of the Office of Internet and Technology, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Kim Berger. The Office of Internet and Technology is part of the Economic Justice Division, which is headed by Chief Deputy Attorney General Chris D’Angelo and overseen by Senior Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.