has agreed to pay $9.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine that he said “deceived users and invaded their privacy.” Google has also agreed to change some of its practices, primarily in relation to how it informs users about the collection, storage and use of their location data.
“Google leads consumers to believe that consumers have control over whether Google collects and stores information about their location and how that information is used,” reads the complaint Racine filed in January. “In reality, consumers who use Google products cannot prevent Google from collecting, storing and benefiting from their location.”
Racine’s office also accused Google of using “dark patterns,” which are design choices designed to trick users into taking actions that don’t benefit them. Specifically, the AG claimed that Google repeatedly asked users to turn on location tracking in certain apps, telling them that certain features would not work properly if location tracking was not enabled. Racine and his team found that location data was not even needed for the app in question. They claimed that Google “made it impossible for users to opt-out of tracking their location”.
The $9.5 million payment is paltry for Google. Last quarter, it took the parent company less than 20 minutes to generate that much revenue. The changes the company will make to its practices as part of the settlement could have a larger impact.
People who currently have certain location preferences turned on will receive notifications telling them how to turn off each preference, delete associated data, and limit how long Google keeps that information. Users who set up a new Google Account will be informed which location-based account settings are enabled by default and given the opportunity to opt out.
Google must maintain a webpage detailing its location data practices and policies. This includes ways for users to access their location settings and details of how each setting affects Google’s collection, storage or use of location data.
It also prevents Google from sharing an individual’s precise location data with a third-party advertiser without the user’s express consent. The company must delete location data “derived from a device or from an IP address in web and app activity within 30 days” of receiving the information
“Given the sheer scale of tracking and surveillance that technology companies can embed into their widely deployed products, it is only fair that consumers should be educated on how important user data, including information about their every move, is being collected, tracked and used by them become businesses,” Racine said in a statement. “Significantly, this solution also provides users with the ability and choice to opt out of tracking and to limit the manner in which user information may be shared with third parties.”
Engadget has reached out to Google for comment.
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