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Explained: Why Google has to pay $392 million to 40 US states

Explained: Why Google has to pay $392 million to 40 US states

In a rather landmark settlement, state attorneys general of 40 US states announced that Google has agreed to pay $391.5 million over its location tracking practices. Here we explain how the case began and why Google had to pay the largest-even consumer privacy settlement in US history:

When did the case begin?

In a statement, the Oregon US attorney general (AG) said that the investigation against started after a 2018 report revealed that Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.” It was revealed that two Google account settings: Location History and Web & App Activity. Location History is “off” unless a user turns on the setting, but Web & App Activity, a separate account setting, is automatically “on” when users set up a Google account, including all Android users.

Why does Google track user movement?

Google has a huge digital advertising business and the location data is a key part of it. Google, as per the attorney generals, uses the personal and behavioural data it collects to build detailed user profiles and target ads. “In fact, location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects. Even a limited amount of location data can expose a person’s identity and routines and can be used to infer personal details,” the attorney general said in a statement.

Why was Google asked to pay?

The attorneys general found that Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location tracking practices since at least 2014. Specifically, Google confused its users about the extent to which they could limit Google’s location tracking by adjusting their account and device settings.
The Oregon AG said that Google misled its users into thinking they had turned off location tracking in their account settings, when, in fact, Google continued to collect their location information. In addition to the multimillion-dollar settlement, as part of the negotiations with the AGs, Google has agreed to significantly improve its location tracking disclosures and user controls starting in 2023. “For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “They have been crafty and deceptive. Consumers thought they had turned off their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”

What does Google have to do now?

Pay all the states the settlement amount. Further, the settlement requires Google to be more transparent about its practices. “In particular, Google must:
  1. Show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off”;
  2. Make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden); and
  3. Give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage,” as per the statement issued by the Oregon AG.

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