Judge Dismisses Location Privacy Lawsuit Against Google

Siding with Google, a federal judge has dismissed claims that the company violated the privacy rights of California Android users by allegedly tracking their locations after they have told the company not to do so.

In an order issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, California ruled that the allegations in the lawsuit were too speculative to support a claim that Google collected “sensitive and confidential” information.

“It is entirely speculative that geolocation data was ever collected from a plaintiff while at a sensitive or confidential location,” Davila wrote. “Plaintiffs claims are too conclusory and the court cannot assess whether plaintiffs had a legally protected privacy interest in the specific places they went or even how often their geolocation was accessed.”



The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought last year by California residents including Napoleon Patacsil of San Diego. They alleged in a class-action complaint that Google violated the California Invasion of Privacy Act, the state Constitution, and a separate prohibition on "intrusion upon seclusion” -- a broad privacy concept that involves an intentional and “highly offensive” intrusion into a private place.

The lawsuit came several days after The Associated Press reported that the company stores location data gleaned from some services, including search and maps. The AP report said that even when the "Location History" setting is turned off, Google collects and stores some location data unless people turn off a separate setting -- "Web and App Activity."

After that report came out, 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.

Google urged Davila to dismiss the lawsuit for several reasons, including that users consented to the alleged tracking. The company noted that users must affirmatively turn on the Location History setting, and that users can turn off the “Web and App Activity” setting.

Google added that the complaint didn't contain the kinds of allegations that would prove the company violated any laws.

“Plaintiffs’ allegations -- that Google collected location information during the provision of mobile services -- is exactly what Plaintiffs (and others) consented to in Google’s Privacy Policy,” the company wrote in papers filed with Davila earlier this year. “In addition, numerous smartphone applications routinely collect location information from users to provide them with features like navigation, weather, and localized search results, making it impossible for Plaintiffs to adequately allege that this collection is 'highly offensive to a reasonable person' only when Google does it.”

Google added that Patacsil and the others didn't provide “specific, factual allegations regarding the location information they contend Google collected, including what the information showed and why that information is private.”

Davila dismissed the claim that Google violated the California Invasion of Privacy Act "with prejudice" -- meaning the consumers can't beef up their allegations and try again. But he is allowing Patacsil and the others to revise claims that Google violated the state constitution, and that it engaged in “intrusion upon seclusion,” and re-file them by Januuary 23.

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