Google will pay $391.5 million to settle sweeping lawsuits in 40 states over its location tracking practices after attorneys general — prompted by an Associated Press investigation — found the tech giant had collected users’ location data after leading them to believe they had turned off tracking in their account settings.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced the historic settlement alongside 39 other attorneys general, after Rosenblum and Nebraska AG Doug Peterson led negotiations for what they said was the largest consumer privacy settlement ever led by AGs.
Along with the payout–which will be divided among the 40 states–the settlement requires Google to be “more transparent” about its practices.
Going forward, Google must show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off,” make key location tracking information unavoidable for users to see and provide detailed information about the data Google collects and how it is used.
Google “prioritized profit” over user privacy and were “crafty and deceptive,” Rosenblum said in a statement Monday.
The attorneys general opened the investigation into Google after the Associated Press in 2018 reported that Google recorded users’ movements even when they explicitly turned those settings off. The article revealed that while Location History settings were off by default, Web & App Activity, a separate setting, was automatically switched on when users set up their Google account. The attorneys general found that by misleading consumers about the company’s location tracking practices, Google had been breaking state consumer protection laws since at least 2014.
Google spokesperson José Castañeda told Forbes in a statement Monday that the settlement is consistent with improvements that the company has made in recent years, adding that the attorneys general investigation was based on “outdated product policies that we changed years ago.” The settlement is “another step” to minimize data collection while providing more helpful services, Google said in a Monday blog post.
Along with Oregon and Nebraska, the other states part of the settlement include; Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
What To Watch For
State officials used the settlement announcement to call for more sweeping consumer privacy legislation. “Until we have comprehensive privacy laws, companies will continue to compile large amounts of our personal data for marketing purposes with few controls,” Rosenblum said in Monday’s statement. States like California, Colorado and Virginia have rolled out their own privacy rules.