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Washington, DC, Texas, Washington state and Indiana announced the latest lawsuit against Big Tech Monday, alleging that Google deceived users by collecting their location data even when they believed that kind of tracking was disabled.
“Google falsely led consumers to believe that changing their account and device settings would allow customers to protect their privacy and control what personal data the company could access,” DC Attorney General Karl Racine said. “The truth is that contrary to Google’s representations it continues to systematically surveil customers and profit from customer data.”
Racine described Google’s privacy practices as “bold misrepresentations” that undermine consumer privacy. His office began investigating how Google handles user location data after reporting from the Associated Press in 2018 found that many Google apps across iOS and Android recorded location data even when users have chosen privacy options that explicitly say they won’t. The AP coordinated with computer science researchers at Princeton to verify its findings.
“Google’s support page on the subject states: ‘You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,'” the AP reported. “That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.”
The lawsuit argues that Google created a location tracking system that’s impossible for users to opt out of and that it misled users about how privacy settings could protect their data within apps and at the device level on Android. It also accuses Google of relying on deceptive dark pattern design to force users into making choices counter to their own interests.
Those practices may have run afoul of state laws protecting consumers. In Washington, DC, the Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) outlaws “a wide variety of deceptive and unconscionable business practices,” and is enforced by the attorney general.
Racine’s office is pursuing an injunction against Google as well as seeking to force the company to pay out profits that it made from user data collected by misleading consumers about their privacy.