Washington DC, Texas, Washington state and Indiana announced the latest lawsuit against Big Tech on Monday, alleging that Google tricked users into collecting their location data even when they believed that type of tracking was turned off.
“Google falsely led consumers to believe that changing their account and device settings would allow customers to protect their privacy and control what personal data the company could access,” said DC Attorney General Karl Racine. “The truth is that, contrary to the representations of Google, it continues to systematically monitor customers and profit from customer data.”
Racine described Google’s privacy practices as “bold misrepresentations” that undermine consumer privacy. His office began investigating how Google handles user location data after Associated Press reporting in 2018 found that many Google apps on iOS and Android recorded location data even when users chose privacy options that explicitly say they won’t. The AP coordinated with computer science researchers at Princeton to verify their findings.
“Google’s support page on the matter states: ‘You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History turned off, places you visit are no longer stored,’” the AP reported. “This is not true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store date/time stamped location data without asking.”
The lawsuit argues that Google created a location tracking system that is impossible for users to opt out of and that it misled users about how privacy settings could protect their data in apps and at the device level on Android. It also accuses Google of relying on the deceptive design of dark patterns to force users to make choices contrary to their own interests.
These practices may have conflicted with state laws protecting consumers. In Washington DC, the Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) prohibits “a wide variety of deceptive and unscrupulous business practices” and is enforced by the attorney general.
Racine’s office is seeking an injunction against Google, as well as trying to force the company to pay the profits it made from user data collected by consumers who misrepresented their privacy.