Attorney General Phil Weiser announced Nov. 14 that Colorado and 39 other states have reached a $391.5 million nationwide settlement with Google over its location tracking practices relating to Google Account settings. The AG’s Office noted this is the largest multistate AG privacy settlement in the history of the U.S. Colorado will receive $8,326,875 from the settlement, according to the announcement.
“Google told consumers they could stop sharing their location information if they disabled Location History on their phones. Contrary to its promise to consumers, the company continued to separately track and collect location data when users interacted with products like Google Maps and Search through the Web & App Activity setting, and then used this illegally harvested personal data to sell ads,” Weiser said in a press release. “By misleading consumers into believing they could control their location data and privacy, Google violated our consumer protection laws. Today, we are holding them accountable.”
Location data is a key part of Google’s digital advertising business, according to the AG’s Office. Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects to build detailed user profiles and target ads on behalf of its advertising customers. The AG’s Office noted location data can expose a person’s identity and routines and can be used to infer personal details.
The announcement said the AGs opened the Google investigation following a 2018 Associated Press article that revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.” The article focused on two Google account settings. Location History is off unless a user turns on the setting, but Web & App Activity is automatically on when users set up a Google account, including all Android phone users, the AG’s Office said.
According to the announcement, the AGs found Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location tracking practices since at least 2014. Specifically, Google caused user confusion over the Location History setting and misled consumers about the extent to which Google product users could limit Google’s location tracking by adjusting their account and device settings.
The settlement requires Google to be more transparent with consumers about its location tracking practices, the AG’s Office said. Google needs to:
- Show additional information to users when they alter a location-related account setting
- Make key information about location tracking noticeable for users
- Give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage
The settlement also limits Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google account controls to be more user-friendly, according to the announcement.
AGs of Oregon and Nebraska led the settlement negotiations, assisted by Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, the announcement noted. The AG’s Office noted the final settlement was joined by 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.