Google found to have 'partially' misled Australian users in location tracking case

The case was filed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in 2019.

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The Australian Federal Court has ruled that Google "partially" misled users in the country when it comes to how it collects and uses location data. Justice Thomas Thawley has handed down his verdict for the case filed in 2019 by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which accused the tech giant of tracking Android users' locations without giving them an informed choice.

The ACCC argued that between January 2017 and December 2018, the company gave users the impression that keeping their "Location History" setting off would be enough to prevent Google from collecting their data. That's not the case, the watchdog said, because Google could still gather location information if the "Web & App Activity" setting is switched on, which is its default state.

Justice Thawley agreed with the commission that the tech giant violated provisions of Australian law that prohibit misleading or deceptive conduct. He found the company's actions to be partially misleading, because while they "would not have misled all reasonable users," they would have "misled or [were] likely to mislead some" of them.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims told reporters: "We think today's result is a very clear message to the digital platforms that they have to be upfront with consumers about what is actually happening with [their] data, how it is being used, and how consumers can protect their data."

Google, however, disagrees with the ruling and is considering an appeal. The company said in a statement:

"We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal,” the spokesperson said. We provide robust controls for location data and are always looking to do more — for example we recently introduced auto delete options for location history, making it even easier to control your data."

The company rolled out the ability to auto-delete activity and location data every three or 18 months in 2019. Last year, it enabled the auto-delete option for new users by default, but old users still have to go into their Google Settings and manually switch it on.