Additionally, Google promises to modify the Location History settings once more.
Google and a group of 40 state attorneys general have today reached a settlement in their privacy case. Google has agreed to pay $391.5 million for the deceptive Location History settings it used between 2014 and 2020.
A number of regulatory agencies have taken issue with Google’s Location History settings. The action started in response to a 2018 Associated Press article that made note of the fact that many location-tracking features resided under a second check box called “Web & App Activity” and that the “Location History” check box didn’t control all Google location history across your entire account. Customers who uncheck the “Location History” check box may mistakenly believe that this stops all Google location tracking, but this is only true for a specific Google Maps feature. In 2021, Google was sued in Australia for using this setting and recently reached a $85 million settlement in a related action with Arizona. A few more states are still involved in litigation.
Since the AP investigation, Google has altered its privacy settings multiple times. In a blog post about the settlement, Google said that the decision was “based on out-of-date product policies that we modified years ago.” Google states that other privacy settings adjustments will be made as part of the agreement in the “coming months,” and they will include the following:
- Redesigning user information hubs: We’re updating our Activity controls and Data & Privacy pages with additional disclosures to assist explain how location data enhances our services. In order to empower consumers to make wise decisions regarding their data, we are also developing a single, comprehensive information portal that highlights important location settings.
- Location data deletion made easier: We’ll introduce a new feature that enables users to quickly off Location History and Web & App Activity settings and remove their old data in a single, straightforward step. Additionally, since customers haven’t recently added new Location History data to their accounts, we’ll keep erasing their Location History data.
- New account setup: We will provide customers with new accounts with a more thorough description of what Web & App Activity is, what information it contains, and how it benefits their Google experience.
In summarizing the case, Ellen Rosenblum, the attorney general of Oregon, said, “For years, Google placed profit over the privacy of users of Google products and services. Customers believed they had “turned off” Google’s location tracking tools, but the search giant secretly tracked their activities and shared that data with marketers.