Google has agreed to pay US$391.5 million and settle with 40 US states to be more clear with consumers about its privacy and data capture practices.
The deal, announced Monday, comes after states’ attorneys general found that Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about location tracking practices in Android and other Google services since at least 2014.
States that Google confused users about the scope of Android’s Location History setting. While Location History is off by default, users may not realize that a separate Web & App Activity setting exists, which is on by default and collects location information sent to Google.
Google agreed as part of the settlement
- to show users additional information whenever they “turn on” or “off” a location-related account setting;
- To make important information about location tracking invisible to users (i.e., not hidden); And
- For detailed information on what types of location data Google collects and how it is used, visit the Advanced “Location Technologies” webpage for users.
The settlement also limits Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google Account Controls to be more user-friendly.
Earlier this year, Google made changes to the Web & App Activity controls for paid users of Google Workspace. That feature is now being split into two settings, one still called “Web & App Activity” and the other called “Search History.” Although, according to news reportsGoogle took advantage of this settings split to re-enable certain tracking features, even if users had previously opted out. The settlement means Google needs to be clear on what its setting does.
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“Google makes most of its revenue using the personal data of people who search in its browsers and use its apps,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. said in a statement, “The company’s online reach enables it to target consumers without the consumers’ knowledge or permission. However, the transparency requirements of this settlement will ensure that Google not only informs users of how their location data is being used but also tells them if they want to disable location-related account settings, delete the data collected, and how to change their account settings. Set data retention limits.
The states said location data is an important part of Google’s digital advertising business. Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects on behalf of its advertising customers to build detailed user profiles and target ads. Location data is one of the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects. Limited amounts of location data can also uncover a person’s identity and routine, and can be used to infer personal details.