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Home / World News / Google sued for misleading users on location tracking in Australia

Google sued for misleading users on location tracking in Australia

Google’s privacy controls have drawn criticism in the past and the company has taken steps to centralize and make them more transparent however, options still remain fragmented across multiple settings.mm

world Updated: Oct 29, 2019, 10:25 IST
Vlad Savov
Vlad Savov
Bloomberg, Tokyo
The ACCC has alleged that  Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting  had to be switched off  in regards to location tracking.
The ACCC has alleged that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting had to be switched off in regards to location tracking.(AP photo)

Australia’s consumer watchdog has sued Google and its local subsidiary, accusing the Alphabet Inc. company of misleading users in the way it gets permission to track their location.

At issue is Google’s Location History setting on Android mobile devices. The way Google represents it to users would lead them to believe that turning the feature off would be enough to stop the company from storing their location data, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleges in its lawsuit. But users in fact needed to switch off “Web & App Activity” tracking to truly block storage of location data, it said in its filing.

“We allege that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting also had to be switched off,” said ACCC Chair Rod Sims in the statement announcing the action. A Google spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google’s privacy controls have drawn criticism in the past and the company has taken steps to centralize and make them more transparent. Even so, options remain fragmented across multiple settings. Google’s smartphone services store users’ locations even when privacy settings are adjusted to shut these features off, according to a report by the Associated Press that was confirmed by Princeton University researchers. Google said at the time that Location History is entirely opt-in but -- even if it’s disabled -- the company will continue to use location to improve user experience in search or navigation, for instance.

The period addressed by the complaint in Australia’s Federal Court spans from January 2017 until late 2018, and there’s a supplementary issue raised relating to the second half of 2018. The ACCC’s additional allegation is that Google misled consumers into thinking that “the only way they could prevent Google from collecting, keeping and using their location data was to stop using certain Google services, including Google Search and Google Maps.”

That hid the fact, it argued, that disabling location tracking could in truth “be achieved by switching off both ‘Location History’ and ‘Web & App Activity’.”

The ACCC seeks penalties and the setup of a compliance program for future activities, among other measures. The watchdog now has the power to levy penalties as high as 10% of revenue, Sims told reporters.

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