40 states pay Google location fees for $392 million

40 states pay Google location fees for $392 million

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Search giant Google has agreed to a $391.5 million settlement with 40 states to resolve an investigation into how the company tracked user locations, state attorneys general announced Monday.

The states investigation was prompted by a 2018 Associated Press articlewho found that Google continued to track people’s location data even after they opted out of that tracking by turning off a feature called “location history.”

The attorneys general called the settlement a historic victory for consumers and the largest multistate privacy settlement in U.S. history.

It comes at a time when growing unease about privacy and surveillance by tech companies is drawing growing outrage from politicians and scrutiny from regulators. Supreme Court ruling in June ending constitutional abortion protections raised potential privacy concerns for women seeking the procedure or related information online.

“This $391.5 million settlement is a historic victory for consumers in an era of growing reliance on technology,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “Location data is some of the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects, and there are many reasons why a consumer may opt out of tracking.”

At a press conference, Tong urged consumers to “take a little personal inventory” of their online settings and turn them off if they don’t want them.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that we live in a surveillance economy,” he said. “Understand that you are tracked every minute of every day you are.”

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., said it fixed the issues several years ago.

“Consistent with the improvements we’ve made over the past few years, we’ve resolved this investigation, which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” company spokesman Jose Castaneda said. .

Location tracking can help tech companies sell digital ads to marketers looking to connect with nearby consumers. It’s another tool in a data-gathering toolbox that generates more than $200 billion in annual ad revenue for Google, with most of the profits pouring into the coffers of its parent company, Alphabet, which is worth $1.2 trillion market.

In its 2018 article, the AP reported that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store users’ location data even though they have used a privacy setting that prevents Google from doing so. Computer scientists from Princeton confirmed these findings at the request of the AP.

Storing this data carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects.

The AP reported that the location tracking privacy issue affects some 2 billion users of devices running Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions of iPhone users worldwide who rely on Google for maps or search.

Attorneys general investigating Google said a key part of the company’s digital advertising business is location data, which they called the most sensitive and valuable personal data that Google has. collection company. Even a small amount of location data can reveal a person’s identity and routines, they said.

Google uses location information to target consumers with ads from its customers, state officials said.

Attorneys general said Google had misled users about its location-based practices since at least 2014, violating state consumer protection laws.

As part of the settlement, Google also agreed to make these practices more transparent to users. This includes showing them more information when they turn location account settings on and off and maintaining a web page that gives users information about what data Google collects.

The murky surveillance brought to light by the AP troubled even some Google engineers, who acknowledged the company could face a huge legal headache after the story was published, according to internal documents that went on to report. surfaced in consumer fraud lawsuits.

Tong, Connecticut AG, thanked the AP for its story, which he said “set the stage for the states’ investigation” and helped expose tracking practices.

He said a new Connecticut consumer privacy law that goes into effect next year will require people to opt-in to all location tracking, and not have to opt-out of it.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed the state’s first lawsuit against Google in May 2020, alleging the company defrauded its users by misleading them into believing they could keep their location. privacy by disabling location tracking in their software settings.

Arizona settled its case with Google for $85 million last month, but by then attorneys general in several other states and the District of Columbia had also pounced on the company with their own lawsuits aimed at to hold Google accountable for its alleged deception.

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Gordon reported from Washington, DC Writer Michael Liedtke of AP Technology in San Ramon, California, contributed to this report.

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This story has been updated to reflect that the Supreme Court ruling on abortion was issued in June, not last month.

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