On August 13, 2018, the Associated Press published a story: “Google tracks your movements, like it or not.” According to the article, computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed findings that “many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’re using a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.” The article featured a map showing the locations that Google had tracked a researcher as having traveled to over several days, even though the researcher had his “Location History” turned off the whole time. Google apparently explained this away on grounds that turning “Location History” off only prevented Google from adding movements to the “timeline” (its visualization of a user’s daily travels), but it did not stop Google from collecting location data. To stop the collection of location data, another setting – called “Web and App Activity” – had to be turned off. Notwithstanding this, the AP reported that Google’s support page stated at the time: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”
Fast forward three years later, and the Attorney General from Arizona, and most recently (this past Monday) four Attorneys General from D.C., Indiana, Texas, and Washington, sued Google for deceiving customers to gain access to their location data. Google is alleged to have used “dark patterns” – which are “tricks” embedded into website and application user interfaces, used to influence users’ decisions or make users do things or allow things that they didn’t meant to do or allow. Here, Google is alleged to have used “dark patterns” to gain access to location-tracking data, even after users thought they had disallowed Google from accessing that information. Washington, D.C. Attorney General, Karl Racine, said in a statement: “Google falsely led consumers to believe that changing their account and device settings would allow customers to protect their privacy and control what personal data the company could access. … The truth is that contrary to Google’s representations it continues to systematically surveil customers and profit from customer data. Google’s bold misrepresentations are a clear violation of consumers’ privacy.”
Tuesday, Google issued a blog post responding to the recent complaints.