Google Location-Tracking Practices & Consumer Law Violations
In November, 40 states (including Ohio) reached an almost $400 million settlement with Google concerning its tracking practices associated with the Google Account settings, in what is now the largest multi state consumer protection and privacy settlement in U.S. history. In their investigations, the states found that Google had been misleading consumers about the company’s location tracking practices since 2014; Specifically, that the company created confusion for consumers surrounding:
- How they could limit Google’s location tracking by adjusting account settings;
- The scope of the ‘Location History’ setting, specifically; and
- The fact that the “Web & App” Activity setting was constantly collecting location information about them because it is automatically “on” when users set up Google accounts.
What Is Google Doing?
Google collects extremely sensitive and valuable personal information, and builds user profiles, to target individuals with very specific ads tailored to them based on that information that it has collected. This same information can reveal an individual’s identity, routines, and personal details; for example, not only can they determine your precise location, but also information about your health.
While these data points may seem harmless, when combined with what data other connected devices have potentially collected (such as fitness apps, for example), it can be sold or monetized. As a result, complete strangers could have information about where you work, socialize, and obtain your health care, etc., and you as a consumer have no idea who has what and what’s being done with it.
The reality is that the data enters a kind of “sales floor” frequented by buyers, sellers, and others, all of which results in the data being provided to third parties. Data aggregators can collect and sell access to that data to marketers and others, and this is no small scale operation: According to the FTC, one data broker reportedly possessed 3,000 points of data for nearly every consumer in the U.S.
New Rules for Google
In addition to paying significant fines and being limited in its use and storage of certain types of location information it collects, as a result of the settlement, Google must now do the following:
- Provide consumers with detailed information concerning the types of location data the company collects and how it is used (via a web page titled “Location Technologies”)
- Make information about location tracking “unavoidable” (i.e. not hidden) to consumers
- When a location-related account setting is turned “on” or “off,” display additional information to users
If it fails to abide by these consumer protections put in place by the settlement, as well as those already established to protect consumers, it could legally be held accountable.
Columbus, Ohio Consumer Protection Attorneys
If you live in Columbus or Dayton, Ohio and have concerns that your consumer rights have been violated by a company, contact our Columbus consumer protection attorneys at the Kohl & Cook Law Firm LLC today to find out how we can help.