Google To Pay $85 Million To Settle Location Privacy Battle In Arizona

Google has agreed to pay $85 million to settle a privacy lawsuit brought by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who claimed the company misled smartphone users about collection of their location data.

The settlement agreement, filed Tuesday with Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason, calls for the state legislature to direct the bulk of those funds go toward “education, broadband, and Internet privacy efforts and purposes.”

If finalized, the deal will resolve a lawsuit brought by Brnovich in May of 2020, when he claimed Google engaged in “widespread and systemic use of deceptive and unfair business practices,” in order to obtain information about people's locations.

He alleged that Google violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act, which prohibits companies from deceiving consumers in connection with the sale or advertisement of merchandise. 

The court battle stemmed from a 2018 Associated Press report that Google stores location data gleaned from some services, including search and maps, even when users attempt to prevent the data collection

The Associated Press reported 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 by adding language informing people that turning off Location History doesn't affect other location services, and that some location data may still be saved.

A Google spokesperson said Brnovich's case was “based on outdated product policies” that the company changed years ago.

“We provide straightforward controls and auto delete options for location data, and are always working to minimize the data we collect,” the spokesperson added.

In addition to Brnovich's lawsuit, the report also spurred cases against Google by attorneys general in Washington, D.C., Indiana, Texas and Washington state, as well as a consumer class-action complaint led by San Diego resident Napoleon Patacsil.

Google and attorneys for Patacsil recently told the judge presiding over that matter that they reached an “agreement in principle,” but haven't yet formalized the deal.

The settlement in the Arizona case comes around 10 months after Thomason rejected Google's request to rule in its favor without first conducting a trial.

Among other arguments, Google said none of the alleged misrepresentations flagged in Brnovich's complaint were made in connection with the sale or advertisement of smartphones, and therefore couldn't have violated the state's consumer-protection law.

Thomason rejected that contention, essentially ruling that the dispute involved factual questions that could only be answered by holding a trial.

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