Google To Pay $392 Million To Settle With State AGs Over Location Privacy

Google has agreed to pay $392 million to settle claims brought by 40 state attorneys general who alleged the company misled smartphone users about the collection of their location data. 

The settlement agreements, unveiled Monday, also require Google to make additional disclosures to consumers about the collection and use of their location history.

News of the settlement comes one month after Google agreed to pay $85 million to resolve a lawsuit brought by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who alleged that the company violated a state consumer protection law by duping smartphone users about location privacy.

The cases stemmed from a 2018 Associated Press report that the company 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.

The attorneys general alleged that from at least 2014 to at least 2019, Google “misrepresented and omitted material information regarding the Location History and Web & App activity settings,” resulting in consumers' confusion about how their location information would be collected, stored and used.

The states also alleged that Google misled consumers into thinking that turning off an ads personalization setting would prevent Google from using location data to send personalized ads.

“This setting only provides an illusion of control,” the attorneys general alleged. “In reality, Google continues to target ads based on a user's location -- both on and off Google products -- even if the user disables ad personalization.”

A Google spokesperson stated Monday that the states' investigation "was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago."

The settlement agreement specifically requires Google to use pop-ups to make disclosures about location data, including how to delete the information, to people who have Location History or Web & App Activity settings enabled.

The agreement also requires Google to provide users with additional information when they turn a location-related setting “on” or “off,” and to create a “location technologies” page that offers detailed information about the type of location data collected and its use.

Google still faces a consumer class-action complaint led by San Diego resident Napoleon Patacsil.

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