Why Google is getting sued for location tracking?

Texas, Indiana, and Washington DC are suing Google for its ‘deceptive practices’ in revealing location data and how it is obtained. The complaint is based on an Associated Press report from 2018. (AP).

Even if a user disables the option in their device settings, Google continues to collect data. Google had to amend its location tracking policy after the news.

What’s the case? Was Google ever sued?

According to Bloomberg, a consortium of state attorneys general stated Monday they were suing Google for misleading tactics relating to location data collecting. Google’s policy possibly violates consumer protection laws.

The crux is that Google collects user location even if they turn off location tracking on their phone. The lawsuit cites a 2018 AP report. Bloomberg notes that portions of the cases were redacted and the Washington DC complaint was filed under seal.

According to the study, Google staff acknowledged its location history disclosures were “definitely confusing” and that account options were meant to give users the illusion of control.

They also criticize Google’s user privacy settings, which they say unclear. This is not the first time Google has been sued. State of Arizona filed a similar complaint against Google in 2020, claiming the search giant made it hard for users not to divulge their location.

The lawsuits are “based on erroneous and outdated statements regarding our settings”, according to Google. “We’ve always put privacy features into our products and provided extensive controls for location data,” Google stated in a statement.

Why is Google gathering location data a problem?

Localization data is the most sensitive, and even a small amount acquired over time might reveal a person’s identify and habits. « Location can also be used to infer personal data such as political or religious affiliations; sexual orientation; income; health status; or participation in support organizations. 

The corporation may then monitor consumers’ daily life, especially because so many rely on the company and its products on a daily basis. This data may be used to get consumer insights and sell ‘targeted’ advertising, it adds.

It also claims Google has financial motives, given the billions in advertising, and wants to make it harder for consumers to opt out of location monitoring. Consumers should be able to understand and manage how their location data is collected, stored, used, and monetized by the company.

How does Google gather location data?

True, Google allows users to disable the collection of location data around their devices. The data is still collected.

Location data is captured from most Android and iOS phones when you connect into your Google account for Gmail or Google Maps. Remember that Google Maps won’t operate unless you give it access to your location. To access privacy settings for a Google account, go to the ‘Manage your account’ page.

There is a History Settings option under ‘Data & Privacy’. Web & App Activity, Location History, and YouTube History are listed here. Users can disable each of these, and Google will no longer be able to collect and keep data for your account.

For example, if you disable YouTube History, it will not keep track of your viewing habits and searches to improve your suggestions. Location History follows the same logic.

Turning it off prevents the device’s location from being saved to your Location History. “Previous activity is not removed from your Location History,” it says. The user must manually delete this. Also, bear in mind that Google Location Services, Location Sharing, and Find My Device settings are not affected.

The most vital information regarding these options is presented at the end. The page warns that “some location data may remain preserved in other settings, like Web & App Activity, even after you switch off Location History.”

This data is collected even if you disable Location History. The complaints claim this confuses users and is dishonest.

After the AP reported the issue in 2018, Google revised the help page for Location settings. Previously, the documentation just stated that users could disable Location History at any moment.

“With Location History off, the areas you go are no longer stored.” When you disable Location History for your Google Account, it disables it for all related devices. A device’s Location History can be disabled.” It didn’t say Google would acquire data through other services. It was later updated with the above information.

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