Google is Sued for Location History Deceptions

Posted on August 21, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, Google, iOS, Mobile with 17 Comments

Thanks to its recent location tracking deceptions, Google is being sued by a California man. And he’s seeking class-action status for the suit, which means it could involve many millions of defendants.

“Google expressly represented to users of its operating system and apps that the activation of certain settings will prevent the tracking of users’ geolocations,” the complaint explains. “This representation was false. Despite users’ attempts to protect their location privacy, Google collects and stores users’ location data, thereby invading users’ reasonable expectations of privacy.”

The suit, which was first reported by Ars Technica, could be expanded to include any users of iPhones or Android-based phones who had turned off Google’s location tracking functionality. It was filed last Friday and charges that Google violated the California Invasion of Privacy Act and the state’s constitutional right to privacy, the site says.

Google, as you may recall, was found to have ignored users who configured its ability to track their locations by disabling the Location History setting attached to their online accounts. It did so using the Microsoft playbook, by having an additional setting with a nonsensical name that, when left enabled, allowed Google to continue tracking the location history.

The issue, of course, is that Google’s public-facing explanations of how users might disable location tracking was deceptive and failed to mention this additional setting. So in the wake of the original report, the online giant quietly added language to its support website that explained that others settings would also impact this tracking.

Since then, Google has updated that language yet again. As Android Police explains, the site now says that the Location History setting works at the Google account level and that this setting “does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device.” Furthermore, “some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.” The site now explains how you can turn off Location services at the device level too.

Google’s data collection is a double-edged sword. As is the case with other products that silently collection tons of user data, like Windows 10, Google’s services get better specifically because the firm collections this data. It’s unclear, for example, why the typical Google Maps user would want to disable location history.

But in this age of privacy awareness, Google’s data collection habits were bound to cause problems eventually. And in addition to the lawsuit, Google could now face regulatory scrutiny too: The Electronic Privacy Information Center warned the FTC last week that Google is now violating its 2011 and 2012 settlements with the agency, both of which center on its deceptive privacy practices.


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