Washington DC's AG sues Google for 'deceiving users and invading their privacy'

Karl Racine says that Google mislead users over location tracking.

The Washington Post via Getty Images

Google, no stranger to lawsuits about its practices these days, is facing a fresh legal broadside from Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine. Racine (pictured) has launched an action claiming that Google has violated the Consumer Protection Procedures act in the state, specifically about location tracking. Essentially, Racine believes that while Google says its users can opt-out of having their whereabouts identified, such tracking remains in place. Racine's claim is being mirrored by similar AG-led lawsuits in Texas, Washington State and Indiana.

Much of this controversy was first publicized back in 2018 when an Associated Press report identified that location tracking remained active regardless of the user’s choice. The claim says that between 2014 and 2019, despite these promises, tracking data was stored in a Web and App Activity database. As our deep dive on the subject explained, Google did enable users to go in and erase their location from this file, but the process was slow and laborious.

“Google leads consumers to believe that consumers are in control of whether Google collects and retains information about their location and how that information is used,” says the complaint. “In reality, consumers who use Google products cannot prevent Google from collecting, storing and profiting from their location.” It added that the use of dark patterns to nudge a user to consenting to data collection is harmful to consumers.

This case follows a landmark action in Arizona, brought in 2020, where AG Mark Brnovich wanted the company to pay back ad money to users who though they had turned tracking off, but did not. In 2021, documents from that case emerged claiming that Google had further sought to obscure the settings that would enable a user to disable location tracking.

Update Jan 24th, 11:28am ET: Google spokesperson José Castañeda has issued the following statement, saying that "the Attorneys General are bringing a case based on inaccurate claims and outdated assertions about our settings. We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We will vigorously defend ourselves and set the record straight.”