Google fined $40M for misleading location tracking settings on Android
Google faces sanctions of more than $40 million in Australia over its practices that misled Android users regarding the company's access to their personal data.
Google has been fined A$60 million (over $40 million) in Australia over Android settings it had applied around five years ago, which were found to have misled consumers about its location data in a 2021 court ruling.
Australia's Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) set in motion proceedings against Google and its subsidiary in Australia back in late October 2019, going on to take the tech giant to court for representing its collection and use of its consumers' personal data in a misleading manner between January 2017 and December 2018.
The court found in April 2021 that Google had breached the country's Consumer Law when it represented to some Android users that the "Location History" setting had been the only setting on their Google account that determined whether the corporation kept and used personally identifiable data about their location.
Google misled the users of its services on Android, as it was another account setting, "Web & App Activity" that enabled it to collect users' location data. This service was turned on by default, a classic dark pattern.
"Google, one of the world’s largest companies, was able to keep the location data collected through the 'Web & App Activity' setting and that retained data could be used by Google to target ads to some consumers, even if those consumers had the 'Location History' setting turned off," ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said in a statement.
"This significant penalty imposed by the Court today sends a strong message to digital platforms and other businesses, large and small, that they must not mislead consumers about how their data is being collected and used," she added.
The regulator estimates around 1.3 million Google accounts owners in Australia may have viewed a screen found by the court to have breached the law in question.
Google took steps to correct the contravening conduct by December 20, 2018, meaning consumers in the country were no longer shown the misleading screens, the ACCC noted.
The ACCC issued a press release that includes some screengrabs showing Google notifications sent to Android users found to be misleading. They include three versions of Google's Web & Activity setting screen shown to consumers upon setting up an account on their device, which do not have a mention of the word "location" at all.
However, at the time of the court ruling last year, Google argued with the findings, saying it disagreed with them and that it was considering an appeal.
Google was ordered to ensure its policies include a commitment to compliance, requiring it to train certain staff about the country's Consumer Law, in addition to paying a contribution to the ACCC's costs.
If Android users were to try and choose to turn off "Location History", which, to begin with, did not prevent Google from tracking them, they could also be shown a pop-up deemed "confusing" by the Court, asking them if they were sure they wanted to "pause location history?" and warning them that this decision would "limit the functionality of some Google products over time."
Google was reported in late April to be in the process of developing a Cloud computing center in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s state oil giant Aramco, a project that has Google investors standing on the fence given that it might turn into a powerful tool to spy on the people of the Kingdom.
The New York Post reported that Google shareholders have expressed discomfort at this strange partnership as the Silicon Valley giant might be offering Saudi authorities a unique tool to spy on – and execute - dissidents, journalists, and activists, essentially serving "sensitive data on a silver platter to Saudi's top hitmen."
Google has a long history of controversies surrounding its collection of users' data and storing it without consent.
The Tagansky district court in Moscow fined Google $264,000 in mid-June for repeatedly refusing to localize Russian citizens' personal data.
Google LLC continues to store Russians' personal data in databases in the United States and the European Union, according to the protocol developed by Roskomnadzor under Part 9 of Art. 13.11 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses.
Previously, Google was fined $52 million in July 2021 for refusing to localize Russian citizens' personal data.
Additionally, a recent report alleged that Google Chrome extensions collect data about the user's system such as installed applications, hardware configuration, and performance stats.