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Google accused of ‘deceptive’ location tracking in new lawsuit

Google is being sued in the United States for allegedly misleading customers about how to manage location tracking. The states of Texas, Indiana, Washington, and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit against the company over what they term “deceptive” location tracking methods that infringe on consumers’ privacy, adding that it made it nearly impossible for users to stop their location from being tracked.

“Google misled users into believing that adjusting their account and device settings would allow them to preserve their privacy and restrict what personal data the business could access,” stated Karl Racine, the attorney general of Washington, DC.

The complaint claims that Google established a location monitoring system that users can’t opt-out of, and that it misled consumers about how privacy settings in apps and at the device level on Android can secure their data. It also accuses Google of using deceptive dark pattern design, such as Complicated navigation menus, visual misdirection, unclear wording, and repetitive prodding towards a certain outcome are examples of design choices that influence users’ decision-making for the company’s benefit.

Google’s privacy policies, according to Racine, are “bold misrepresentations” that jeopardize consumer privacy. In actuality, Racine added, consumers have no way of stopping Google from collecting, keeping, and profiting from their location data. The attorney general’s complaint aims to put an end to Google’s allegedly deceptive and unlawful tactics, ensure that the business cannot harm consumers’ capacity to protect their privacy, and seek sanctions for the infractions.

These tactics may have violated state consumer protection laws. The Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), which is implemented by the attorney general of Washington, DC, prohibits “a wide variety of deceptive and unethical business activities.” “Google’s advertising business relies heavily on location data. As a result, it has a financial incentive to persuade users not to refuse access to that data,” said Bob Ferguson, the Washington state attorney general’s office.

After the Associated Press (AP) reported in 2018 that numerous Google apps across iOS and Android logged location data even when users chose privacy options that specifically said they wouldn’t, the agency began looking into how Google manages user location data. To verify its findings, the AP worked with Princeton computer science professors. According to the AP, turning off Location History when using Google Maps or Search was insufficient because a certain setting, Web and App Activity, continued to track location and other personal data. The study added that up to two billion Android and Apple devices were compromised.

“According to Google’s support page, ‘You can turn off Location History at any time.’ The places you go are no longer saved when Location History is turned off,’ according to the Associated Press. “This isn’t correct. Even if Location History is turned off, some Google apps save time-stamped location data without prompting.” During an interview with the media, Google defended itself, stating the case was founded on “inaccurate accusations and outdated assumptions about our settings.”

The “attorneys general are initiating a case based on incorrect accusations and outdated assumptions regarding our settings,” according to a Google official, Jose Castaneda. We’ve always included privacy features and strong controls for location data in our products. We will adamantly defend ourselves and correct the record.”

The state of Arizona filed a similar case against Google in May 2020 over its gathering of user location data. The lawsuit is still pending. Several lawsuits and inquiries have been filed against Google. Attorneys general from a number of US states sued Google in December 2020, alleging that the corporation misled publishers and advertisers about the price and procedure of advertising auctions.

According to the lawsuit, Google maintained its dominance in the advertising sales market by inflating the price of brand advertisements and stifling competition from rival advertising exchanges. The complaint accuses Google of operating a digital advertising monopoly that hurt advertising industry competitors and publishers by raising the cost of advertising for advertisers.

The US Justice Department accused the tech corporation of abusing its position to create an illegal monopoly over search and search advertising in a separate complaint filed in October 2020. “Google, a startup with an innovative way to search the nascent internet two decades ago, became the darling of Silicon Valley as a scruffy startup with an innovative way to search the emerging internet. “That Google has long since gone,” the suit claimed. Meanwhile, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, as well as Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have filed an antitrust case in the United States, alleging that they were participating in a hidden ad collusion plan.

The lawsuit, which was filed last week and led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, said that Zuckerberg and Pichai “personally approved a secret pact that provided the social network a leg up in the search giant’s online advertising auctions.”

The allegation that we “colluded” with Facebook Audience Network (FAN) through our Open Bidding arrangement is “just not true,” according to Google.

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