Judge Approves Google $62 Million Location Privacy Settlement

A federal judge has granted final approval to a class-action settlement that requires Google to pay $62 million for allegedly collecting and storing location data from smartphone users who had attempted to keep that information private.

The deal requires Google to pay around $42 million to more than a dozen schools and organizations -- including the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Free Press, ACLU of Northern California, Center for Democracy & Technology, and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The settlement also calls for the attorneys who brought the case to receive around $20 million. Individual users won't receive compensation. 

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila in San Jose wrote in an order issued Thursday that deal was “an appropriate resolution in this case.”



Davila accepted the settlement over the objection of three smartphone users who argued in papers filed last month that the settlement funds shouldn't be distributed to nonprofits unless there was no practical way to directly compensate people whose data was allegedly collected.

The objectors also said they disagreed with some of the recipients' positions -- such as support for net neutrality rules, or stance on abortion.

“The proposed recipients are self-described advocacy groups that advance contentious public policy positions with which at least some class members, including objectors, disagree,” they argued.

Their counsel, Ted Frank of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute Center for Class-Action Fairness, has challenged numerous other class-action settlements -- including a prior privacy dispute involving Google that went to the Supreme Court in 2018. (Last year, Google settled that matter for $23 million.)

The location-privacy settlement comes in a battle dating to 2018, when San Diego resident Napoleon Patacsil brought a class-action complaint against Google over allegations that it tracks smartphone users' locations.

Patacsil's lawsuit -- later joined by other Google users -- stemmed from an August 2018 Associated Press report that Google stores location data harvested from some services, including search and maps, even when users have attempted to prevent the data collection.

The AP reported that even when the "Location History" setting is turned off, Google gathers 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 stating that turning off “Location History” doesn't affect other location services, and that some location data may still be saved.

Google separately agreed to pay around $600 million to settle location privacy charges brought by state attorneys general.

A company spokesperson previously said claims in all cases were based on “outdated product policies" that were changed years ago.

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