Google to Pay $93 Million Based on Deception in Gathering Data on Users’ Locations
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Google LLC yesterday agreed to pay a civil penalty of $93 million in settlement of an action against it by the California Department of Justice for tricking users into giving unwitting consent to a tracking of their locations and making false representations.
California sued the tech giant under the Unfair Competition Law and the False Advertising Law.
Both the complaint and the stipulated proposed judgment were filed yesterday.
The complaint, signed by Deputy Attorney General Jessica Wang, explains:
“Google’s primary source of revenue is advertising. Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. reported that in 2022 it had revenues of over $280 billion, and over $220 billion of that was attributable to Google’s advertising. A critical feature of Google’s advertising platform is location-based (or geotargeted) advertising, as advertisers greatly prefer to precisely target users in narrow geographical locations, in addition to advertising to users based directly on their location. Google also uses their location data to build behavioral profiles of users, which can determine what ads are shown to users.”
The complaint includes this graphic:
“However, by enabling this ‘enhancement,’ the user unknowingly turned on Location History, which allowed Google to collect and store the user’s location account-wide—even outside Maps. By simply clicking on the button labelled ‘Yes, I’m in’ within Google Maps, users were actually consenting to the collection and use of their location data 24/7 by Google. Defendant also failed to disclose the material fact that it was also using the location data for the wholly unrelated purpose of profiling the user for advertising purposes.”
The complaint recites that Google assured users that they could turn off “Location History” and would not be tracked.
“Even when a user turned Location History off, Google continued to collect and store that user’s location data through other sources, including a user’s Web & App Activity, which has been (and continues to be) defaulted to on when a user creates a Google account,” the pleading says. It adds that, contrary to Google’s representations, “even after a user turned off Location History, Google would not delete the previously collected Location History data for the user, but would continue to both store and use the data to serve geotargeted ads.”
In creating an account, a user may check a box saying, “Show me personalized ads” or one reading, “Show me ads that aren’t personalized.” The complaint declares:
“Even if a user turns off this setting, Google still uses the user’s real-time location information to serve them targeted ads. Thus, contrary to the plain language of the setting options, users are not actually able to choose whether the ads they see are personalized to them.”
The $93 million amount is based on the civil penalty of $2,500 per violation of the Unfair Competition Law, as specified in Business & Professions Code §17206.
The stipulated judgment—which requires court approval—includes numerous injunctive provisions, noting that some overlap those in an injunction issued in separate litigation with 40 other states and that of Google is in compliance, it need do nothing further. (That litigation resulted in a $391.5 million settlement.)
Among the provisions in yesterday’s proposed judgment is that Google must provide full and truthful information on a webpage including a disclosure as to “how and to what extent USERS are able to limit in GOOGLE ACCOUNTS the LOCATION INFORMATION GOOGLE collects or retains about the USERS, including the extent to which GOOGLE collects, retains, or uses LOCATION INFORMATION when LOCATION-RELATED ACCOUNT SETTINGS are disabled or paused.”
Google issued a statement saying that “consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this matter, which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago.”
Attorney General Rob Bonta commented:
“Our investigation revealed that Google was telling its users one thing—that it would no longer track their location once they opted out—but doing the opposite and continuing to track its users’ movements for its own commercial gain. That’s unacceptable, and we’re holding Google accountable with today’s settlement.”
Copyright 2023, Metropolitan News Company