has agreed to pay $9.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine, who of "deceiving users and invading their privacy." Google has also agreed to change some of its practices, primarily concerning how it informs users about collecting, storing and using their location data.
“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,” the complaint, which Racine filed in January, read. “In reality, consumers who use Google products cannot prevent Google from collecting, storing and profiting from their location.”
Racine's office also accused Google of employing "dark patterns," which are design choices intended to deceive users into carrying out actions that don't benefit them. Specifically, the AG's office claimed that Google repeatedly prompted users to switch in location tracking in certain apps and informed them that certain features wouldn't work properly if location tracking wasn't on. Racine and his team found that location data wasn't even needed for the app in question. They asserted that Google made it "impossible for users to opt out of having their location tracked."
The $9.5 million payment is a paltry one for Google. Last quarter, it took parent company under 20 minutes to make that much in revenue. The changes that the company will make to its practices as part of the settlement may have a bigger impact.
Folks who currently have certain location settings on will receive notifications telling them how they can disable each setting, delete the associated data and limit how long Google can keep that information. Users who set up a new Google account will be informed which location-related account settings are on by default and offered the chance to opt out.
Google will need to maintain a webpage that details its location data practices and policies. This will include ways for users to access their location settings and details about how each setting impacts Google's collection, retention or use of location data.
Moreover, Google will be prevented from sharing a person's precise location data with a third-party advertiser without the user's explicit consent. The company will need to delete location data "that came from a device or from an IP address in web and app activity within 30 days" of obtaining the information
"Given the vast level of tracking and surveillance that technology companies can embed into their widely used products, it is only fair that consumers be informed of how important user data, including information about their every move, is gathered, tracked, and utilized by these companies," Racine said in a statement. "Significantly, this resolution also provides users with the ability and choice to opt of being tracked, as well as restrict the manner in which user information may be shared with third parties."
Engadget has contacted Google for comment.