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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Comments (17)

17 responses to “Google is Sued for Location History Deceptions”

  1. jrswarr

    I would want to disable location history so that Google can't track my whereabouts.


    This data does not need to be logged in order for Maps to be useful. While I may grant an application the right to use my current location , which is all Maps needs to know to get me from here to there - I should be able to explicitly tell the OS and all applications that I do not wish this information to be saved or stored in any way.

  2. Bats

    Fine, by me. Lawsuits mean nothing, at this point.


    Bottom line is that Google makes great stuff. I don't mind Google getting my information at all. It's like hiring a (human being) personal assistant. That assistant is suppose to know everything about you, such as how you like your coffee, your wife's favorite caller, what you are going to do three weeks from now, etc.... That's what Google is for, but in a virtual way. Therefore, I don't mind them "collecting my stuff."


    LOL...LOL...LOL....


    It's because of stuff like this, is why...WHY...I don't mind using Google services. Living in the United States, one MUST know that a company like Google is always one step away from this type of litigation and worst, FEDERAL LITIGATION. If this guy suing can prove damages done unto him by Google, ....lol....it's only going to make Google products better, safer, etc.... This could even go to Washington DC. Heck, you know that Trump would probably get in on the action. Federal prosection is the last thing Google or anyone wants. If an entity goes up against the unlimited resources of the US Government, he/she/it is going to lose. It's an automatic loss. Look at Microsoft. They didn't technically lose, but no doubt the losses they incurred though the federal government.


    ANYWAY....I really don't care what happens. I hope the guy suing wins. However, like I said...lawsuits mean nothing. Especially class action suits. This is going to take years and years in litigation for what? Five bucks? The guyand other people have to prove damages were done to him. If he can do that, then fine. However, the BIG HURT (like i said), would be if the Federal Government goes after Google. I don't mind if they do. Google has always needed to be pegged down a notch or two from their high horse.


    All in all, the collecting of privacy data is meaningless if users consent to it. If they didn't, as proven by the action they have taken prevent their data from being collected, then Google needs to be prosecuted.


    However, no matter, that still won't preclude me from buying a Pixel 3 XL when it comes out.

  3. melinau

    When you sup with the devil, use a long spoon.....


    I'm not particularly exercised by Google, MS, Uncle Tom Cobley & All collecting vast amounts of my personal data online. This is the quid pro quo for all those "free" services & apps.


    I AM exercised when they blatantly lie about it.

  4. JerryH

    It will be interesting to see what happens with this. They will have a hard time proving harm. Of course there are all sorts of theoretical harms. But a judge is going to want something concrete - not a "well my employer might find out I have been going to a cancer clinic and fire me". My first guess would be that they can't come up with anything meaningful and it gets thrown out. It would have more luck in the EU where the rules are more "privacy first" and less "show me the harm".

  5. ben55124

    Google would have been better off not providing any opt-outs and focus on disclosure - if you use our stuff, we track your stuff, and we monetize that to stay in business, and here's what we have on you, and you're welcome to use something else, but our stuff is really good, so see you later.

  6. lvthunder

    I'm surprised there isn't a EU based lawsuit based on GDPR.

  7. jrickel96

    Google is a bad actor. They could anonymize the data and still find it useful, but they don't. They deceive in what they collect.


    But the reality for Google is if they let users actually not be tracked and not report it impacts their bottom line.


    Non-targeted ads generate less than 33% of the revenue of targeted ads. If they had to remove targeted ads altogether their prior quarter revenue would go from $32 Billion to $12 Billion. Their profit would go from $7 Billion to $2 Billion. Still a profitable company but no where near as strong revenue wise.


    We don't know the opt out rate in Europe right now nor do we know if Google is following the rules of GPDR. If this same location tracking is going on in Europe after an individual has opted out, Google could be in some major trouble for fines and lawsuits there. They already have a multibillion Euro lawsuit being pursued stating that they are not complying with GPDR. And if evidence comes out that they are not then the EU can take punitive measures.


    This is Google's central issue. So much of their revenue is contingent on user data. They subsidize many of their other products in order to gather more information and they may not be able to do that for much longer. That means they may not be able to subsidize free G-Suite for schools, cheap G-Suite for business, or cheaper rates for the Cloud.


    I continue to believe that Google will be much smaller within 5 years than it is now. It'll still be a powerhouse for search and still do well with ads, but revenues will shrink by 50% or greater. Android will become less important to them because they will not be able to collect as much useful data, so I could see them reducing the amount of work they do on the OS or just abandoning it completely. ChromeOS is already near death. Would not be surprised to see Google sell Android to Samsung as a possibility.

    • Lateef Alabi-Oki

      In reply to jrickel96:


      You need a show on Comedy Central.


      Google was ready for GDPR before GDPR. Google WAS THE ONLY MAJOR TECH COMPANY that allowed users to control, tweak, and manage their privacy and data on Google's cloud at the most granular level LONG BEFORE THE GDPR. Even today, no other tech company provides the granularity of knobs and settings available on Google's privacy and security dashboard.


      The dumbasses that don't know the difference between Location History and Location Tracking are just, well, dumb. Anybody who thinks turning off Location History is the same as turning of Location Services doesn't deserve to own a phone.


      Chrome OS is the most exciting and most versatile OS on the market today. It's bound to become popular in education, business, enterprise and among developers. It can run web apps, android apps, and linux apps natively. And soon will be able to run Windows apps too. I don't know any OS that even comes close to these level of versatility. Even the hardcore Windows and Apple fanboys, sycophants, and bloggers are have evolved past the notion that Chrome OS is just a glorified web browser, have all eaten crow, and have now adjusted their stance to recognize Chrome OS as a bonafide threat Windows and macOS.


      The portal to the web, Chrome, is owned by Google. The portal to mobile computing, Android, is owned by Google. The portal to the future of computing, AI, is dominated by Google. And as result Google services and products are in extremely high demand because they exist in a stratosphere of their own. It's hard to find a person on the planet, that has access to a computing device and the Internet that doesn't use at least 1 Google product. That's an impossible feat for even the next top 5 tech companies.

      So, the idea that Google is going to be irrelevant in 5 years isn't even a bad joke. It's unhealthy delusion that demands several appointments with a shrink.

  8. Daekar

    So... I have a question. If I only disable location history and not the other setting, what does that actually turn off? Anything?

    • crfonseca

      In reply to Daekar:

      As it turns out, not really.

      Google Maps will still track you, and ask you about places you've been, and keep a record of everywhere you've been. Google Fit will still track you and keep records of all your activity. Etc., etc., etc...

      But hey, the OS itself won't know where you are, so if someone steals your phone, or you misplace it, it sucks to be you.

    • nicholas_kathrein

      In reply to Daekar:

      I know this one. Think of your phone as one thing and the apps on your phone as another. When you turn of the location tracking on the phone like during the first boot where you choose many of settings you are really saying that the phone OS isn't tracking you.

      Now the apps are separate from this. Google Maps or Facebook Messages or many other apps do tracking. You answer those on an app by app basis. Now Google has a web browser that wants gps for google search type things and so that is that other setting their talking about.


      This is a simplified view of this. It doesn't delete the data after use as with everything Google they use that data in future products in many ways such as refining their software.

  9. X911ty12

    Sue away. For that matter sue the government that allows these companies to use and abuse their customers information unfettered.

  10. Sprtfan

    Paul, can you elaborate some on how what Google was doing is just like what Microsoft does? The closest thing I can think of was how MS was deceptive when trying to get people to upgrade to Windows 10 from 7 or 8.1. I know some settings are not consistent through the Windows UI and might not always be labeled in the most consistent way, but I'm not aware of anything as blatant as something labeled Location History not turning off location history.

    Also, I always thought that Microsoft telemetry data that was collected was different than what Google collects and how they use the info is different as well. Thanks

  11. JCerna

    Well if the class action pulls through I might get $1 for every android device I ever owned so ~$100 is not bad. I can see how some people would get upset, however today privacy is nearly impossible to get. You would need to hide in a rural area, not have credit cards or debit cards. Cover your face when outside, and not have a cellphone.

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