Tech giant Google has agreed to pay $391.5 million ( approx. Rs. 3,200 crores) to 40 US states to settle a lawsuit over its location tracking practices. A coalition of attorneys general claimed Google had been misleading users about locating tracking as early as 2014 by continuing to track users’ location information even when they had turned off location tracking. State officials are calling it the largest such privacy settlement in US history, which was led by Oregon and Washington.
“For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum in a news release. He further added, “They have been crafty and deceptive. Consumers thought they had turned off their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”As a part of the settlement, Google has agreed to improve its location tracking disclosures and user controls starting in 2023.
Google has said that it has already rectified and improved some of the location tracking practices detailed in the settlement. “Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google said in its blog post. The company further added that it would be making updates in the coming months to provide greater control and transparency over location data.
The upcoming update will include a new control for users allowing them to turn off their Location History and Web & App Activity settings and delete their past data in one simple flow. Google also plans to add additional disclosures to its Activity controls and Data & Privacy pages. It will continue deleting location history data for users who have not recently contributed new location history data to their accounts, as per the blog post.
Following the US Supreme Court decision overturning the right to an abortion, location tracking particularly has become a sensitive subject as human rights activists fear that authorities could request tech companies like Google to such data to track women’s movements to fertility clinics to enforce state bans. In July, Google announced that its platform would automatically delete location records of users when they visit abortion clinics, domestic violence shelters, and other places where privacy is sought.
According to Google’s transparency report, the tech giant received almost 70,000 requests from subpoenas, search warrants, and other government queries that covered data from more than 115,000 accounts.