Google Sued Over Location Tracking

Google was hit with a new privacy lawsuit over a report that the company tracks smartphone users' locations -- even if they tell the company not to do so.

"Google expressly represented to users of its operating system and apps that the activation of certain settings will prevent the tracking of users’ geolocations. This representation was false," San Diego resident Napoleon Patacsil alleges in a class-action complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. "Despite users’ attempts to protect their location privacy, Google collects and stores users’ location data, thereby invading users’ reasonable expectations of privacy, counter to Google’s own representations about how users can configure Google’s products to prevent such egregious privacy violations."

Patacsil's complaint, which accuses Google of violating California privacy laws, comes several days after The Associated Press reported that the company stores location data gleaned from some services -- including search and maps -- even when people turn off the "Location History" setting. People who want to prevent Google from storing any location data must turn off a separate setting -- "Web and App Activity."

Late last week, Google revised a help page to inform people that turning off Location History doesn't affect other location services, and that some location data may still be saved. But until Thursday the page read: "With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

"Google represented to users of both its apps and its devices that it would not access -- and would prevent other third-parties from accessing -- an individual’s location history if users took certain steps in managing their privacy settings," Patacsil alleges.

He adds that even the newly revised help page does not tell people how to stop all location tracking.

"The new language remains vague, ambiguous, and deceptive," he alleges. "It does not specify what, if anything, is accomplished by turning off Location History; and it does not specify when Google continues to store location history despite the setting being turned off."

Patacsil's lawsuit isn't the only fallout for Google. The advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center contends that the company has violated a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. That order prohibits the company from misrepresenting its privacy practices.

"A user who turned off the 'Location History' setting believed that Google would no longer store their location information," EPIC writes in a letter sent to the FTC Friday. "And Google’s subsequent changes to its policy, after it has already obtained location data on Internet users, fails to comply with the 2011 order. The company cannot retroactively 'change the terms of the bargain.'"

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