Google settles lawsuit over location tracking violations for $392 million

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Makiya Jones, Contributor

Google settled with 40 states for a total of $392 million after violating Android and Apple phone users’ location tracking while in the “off” setting on Nov. 14. According to NPR, the tech company’s log of breaching “consumer protection laws” dates back to 2014 by “misleading users about when it secretly recorded their movements” to then sell that information to “digital marketers,” a common practice used by the company to gain income.

Location tracking has been embedded into electronic devices through GPS and keeps track of one’s position but also uses “government surveillance to online consumer tracking.” This has caused problems for users who have denied permission as “complaints were made against the police for encroaching on the privacy of the individuals” when their information was used in criminal investigations; part of the reason consumers are asked permission beforehand.

In this case, Google continued to collect information through its various outlets such as its search engine, Google Maps and other apps “that connect to Wi-Fi and cellular phone towers.” Records of the tech company tracking the location of those who have turned off their navigation service go back to May 2018.

Alongside Google is Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Amazon, which has also gone through lawsuits or settlements “over claims of antitrust violations, harmful speech, privacy breaches and illegal labor practices.” Just last month, the search engine company faced “similar allegations” resulting in a settlement of $85 million towards the state of Arizona.

“Until we have comprehensive privacy laws,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum states, “companies will continue to compile large amounts of our personal data for marketing purposes with few controls.” Europe established “data privacy rules” in 2018 while a similar discussion has taken place for “nearly a decade” in the U.S.

The Legislative Branch favors the idea of “passing a national privacy law,” though it stalls due to the inability to agree upon a decision and lobbyists issued by tech moguls trying “to water down or destroy legislation.” The reason why lawmakers are delaying initiating privacy laws is due to the extent of data these companies can collect. For Google to “serve up real-time promotion and more personalized ads,” the company depends on the collection of data, more specifically, location history.

The settlement is among 40 states “[that] have enacted comprehensive consumer data privacy laws.” This case has “capped a four-year investigation into the internet search giant’s practices from 2014 to 2020,” the timeframe in which the tech company has violated “the states’ consumer protection laws.”

Google spokesperson José Castano stated the investigation is based on “outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” referencing “Incognito mode,” the privacy browser that inhibits saved data on someone’s account. Hitting a record of being “the largest-ever multistate privacy settlement,” the tech company has agreed to notify users with “more information when they turn location tracking on or off and providing a detailed rundown of location data Google routinely collects on a webpage consumers can access,” in an effort of making their practice more transparent to the public.

Clearer disclosure of their tracking regulation is set to begin in 2023.