Google will pay $85 million to settle a location-tracking case in Arizona

A consumer fraud case brought by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in May 2020 will be settled by Google for $85 million, in what would be one of the largest such payments in the state’s history. Arizona has accused Google of violating the state’s consumer fraud law by continuing to collect user information for location tracking even after opting out, generating huge profits in the process.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich says the state opened an investigation in 2018 after an Associated Press report found that some Google apps continue to record and store a user’s location history even after opting out. The report sparked calls for action from several members of Congress.

Google’s location tracking settlement will provide a major boost to Arizona’s coffers

The AP . investigation What sparked all this stems from research conducted in Princeton which found that Google apps like Maps, the Weather app, and the search bar would locate users with varying degrees of accuracy (down to square feet in the most invasive cases) and log them even if the user had disabled Location History. The issue was discovered when researchers noticed that Google was asking them to review the retail sites they visited even when their location history was completely disabled on their devices.

At the time of the report, Google’s legal argument was that users should know that turning off Location History doesn’t actually disable Device Level Location Services in some apps. Google also claimed that disabling “Web & App Activity” would stop this additional location tracking, but researchers soon discovered that this setting did not put an end to all of its location data sets. This information was integrated into Google’s targeted advertising system, bringing the company just over $209 billion in 2021.

In addition to providing a significant boost to the Arizona Public Fund, the settlement amount is one of the largest Google has paid for privacy issues. The company recently paid a $100 million settlement in Illinois over alleged violations of that state’s unique biometric privacy laws in its tracking of photos uploaded to its Photos app. While these are significant penalties, they are far from an existential threat to Google’s estimated total annual revenue of approximately $257 billion. Some legal observers believe that Google has simply settled on fines of this nature as a cost of doing business rather than as an incentive to change problematic privacy behaviors.

The company has had a tougher time in the European Union in recent years, paying out a total of around €8.2 billion since 2017 due to various violations of antitrust rules and privacy laws. Google faced a new wave of lawsuits in 2022, as several states coordinated to take it to court over the use of “dark patterns” to force users to agree to location tracking. Some states, such as California, have specifically Ban the use of dark patterns Because of the way major technology platforms are used. A group of lawmakers tried to ban them at the federal level through the Deceptive Experimental Reduction Act (DETOUR), which was introduced in 2020 but never voted on. The bill was recently reintroduced, but it is facing difficult circumstances due to the upcoming midterm elections followed by brief recesses for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A string of location-tracking penalties is haunting Google, but will it make a difference?

At this point, Google has a long history of covert location tracking that is difficult (sometimes impossible) to disable, dating back to At least until 2017 When he was found to be collecting data from nearby cell towers; Even removing the phone’s SIM card will not provide any protection from this as long as the phone is connected to the internet. Google has since ended the practice, but only after a strong media reaction.

Google is settling a lawsuit accusing it of violating Arizona’s #Fraud Consumer Law by continuing to collect user information for #locationtracking even after opting out. #privacy #respectdataClick to tweet

Google doesn’t have much incentive to change its practices if these periodic fines don’t significantly impact their massive ad revenue, however, they aren’t making much of a difference yet. The company’s primary tactic for sliding under the radar location tracking appears to be to make specific exceptions for specific apps that the user can disable, but only if the user navigates to that specific app and combs through its settings. Android users were the first to relax in a false sense of security by setting up location history, then setting up web and app activity, believing that those covered all the privacy bases. But there are exceptions that include location tracking, such as a specific “Save location” setting found in Google Photos that must be manually disabled within the app. Studies have also found Telemetry settings It is impossible to turn them off on the phones of specific manufacturers, and this information works back to targeted adware.

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