Google agrees to pay a historic $391.5 million to settle with attorneys general from 40 U.S. states for misleading users about its location tracking and collection practices. The settlement is the largest ever attorneys general-led consumer privacy settlement.
The attorneys general opened the Google investigation following a 2018 Associated Press article that revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.” According to the article, Android users were misled into thinking that location tracking is turned off when the “Location History” setting is “paused” or disabled. Google, however, could continue to track a user’s location through other Google apps and settings. For example, another account setting—turned on by default and ambiguously named “Web & App Activity”—enabled the company to collect, store, and use the customers’ personally identifiable location data.
In addition to the fine, Google agreed to improve transparency regarding its location data tracking and collection practices. Specifically, Google must:
- Show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off”;
- Make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden); and
- Give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage.
The Google settlement highlights the importance for companies to (1) be transparent in their data collection practices and (2) accurately convey data collection practices in a user-accessible manner.