Google fined $93 million for deceiving users about tracking

Users should continue to evaluate their settings to understand how they are being tracked.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of Google.jpg
Representational image of Google.


Following a lengthy examination into its data practices, Google has agreed to pay $93 million to resolve claims that it misled customers about how and when their location information was being tracked and stored. The investigation was led by the California Department of Justice.

This is according to a statement released by California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office on Thursday.

Google is not unfamiliar to lawsuits. The company has been the target of legal action regarding privacy and data protection throughout the years. 

Previous settlements tackled privacy and data collection

In 2012, Google and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement regarding claims that Google Buzz's deployment violated users' privacy and employed misleading business practices. The agreement mandated that Google put in place a thorough privacy program and submit to recurring privacy audits.

The measures were likely not sufficiently implemented, as similar issues surfaced again.

“Our investigation revealed that Google was telling its users 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. That’s unacceptable, and we’re holding Google accountable with today’s settlement,” said Bonta. 

“I want to thank my Consumer Protection Section for their work on this matter and for securing important privacy safeguards on behalf of all Californians.”

Bonta claims that Google misled consumers about how it gathered, stored, and used location data in a complaint filed with the proposed stipulated judgment. For instance, the complaint asserts that Google users were told in disclaimers that disabling the "Location History" feature would prevent Google from storing their location information. 

However, even after that move was made, Google continued to gather the user's location information from other sources. The case further asserts that Google also misled users regarding their ability to reject locally relevant adverts. 

Agreeing to injunctive restrictions

Under the new decision, Google must agree to a variety of injunctive restrictions that will safeguard the privacy rights of Californians and other citizens around the world. Users will now be able to see more information if location-related account options are enabled. 

Google will also increase the degree of openness regarding location tracking and publish a "Location Technologies" webpage that provides visitors with comprehensive information about the location data that Google gathers and how it is utilized.

Consumers will be informed that their location may be used to tailor advertisements before even creating user ad targeting profiles. Finally, Google will be required to obtain a review and written consent from the internal Privacy Working Group before making any significant changes to the location-setting and ad personalization disclosures that would have a significant impact on privacy.

The new settlement should not lull people into a false sense of security. Users must continue to be vigilant and evaluate and modify their privacy settings to reflect their preferences and be constantly aware of how Google collects and uses their data.

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