California Hits Google For $93M Over Deceptive Location Data

A lawsuit filed against Google by California’s Attorney General over the company’s deceptive and misleading options for managing location data has resulted in a $93 million settlement – and new protections for consumers in the state, TechCrunch reported.

As detailed in an incredibly straightforward complaint, Google in several ways appeared to promise users that they could choose whether or how much location data was used in order to target them for advertisements.

Location History is one of several detailed records Google keeps of your activity – you can turn it off here if you haven’t already, TechCrunch noted.

According to TechCrunch, this particular setting is off by default, but users were repeatedly told they should “enhance” their Google Maps experience with the responses “Yes, I’m in” or “Skip for now.” Little did they know agreeing would turn on Location History for purposes far beyond “enhancing” Maps.

Here’s how the AG’s office summarized what Google must now do, for Californians at least:

* Show additional information to users when enabling location-related account settings.

* Provide more transparency about location tracking.

* Provide users with detailed information about the location data that Google collected and how it is used through a “Location Technologies” web page.

* Disclose to users that their location information may be used for ads personalization

* Disclose to users before using Location History data to build ad targeting profiles for users

* Obtain review by Google’s internal Privacy Working Group

* Obtain review by Google’s Internal Privacy Working Group and document approval for all material changes to location-setting and ads personalization disclosures that will have a material impact on privacy.

The Guardian reported that the settlement stems from a lawsuit brought by the California attorney general, Rob Bonta, that concluded the company misled consumers into believing they had more control over their location information than they actually did.

“Our investigation revealed that Google was telling its uses 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,” Bonta said in a statement announcing the settlement. “That’s unacceptable, and we’re holding Google accountable.”

According to The Guardian, the AG’s office further alleged that Google “deceived users about their ability to opt out of advertisements targeted to their location.”

CNN reported that California Department of Justice found that, after a multi-year investigation, the tech giant was “deceiving users by collecting, storing, and using their location data for consumer profiling and advertising purposes without informed consent.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta also said Google accepted taking future actions to prevent those practices. These actions would apply beyond California to other states, according to the proposed order.

The Hill reported that José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, said in a statement that “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.”

According to The Hill, the settlement with California comes after Google settled with 40 other states in November for $391.5 million over similar allegations.

As a person who lives in California, I am well aware that the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) (updated on May 10, 2023) gives consumers who live in California more control over the personal information that businesses collect about them. The huge fine set by the Attorney General should cause Google to think twice about playing around with people’s privacy rights.