KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Google will be paying over $390 million dollars in a multistate settlement with attorneys general from Tennessee and 39 other states because of its location tracking practices within Google account settings, according to a release from the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office.
This lawsuit began following an Associated Press article from 2018 revealed that revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.” The AG’s Office explained, specifically focusing on the Location History and Web & App Activity Google account settings.
“Location data is a key part of Google’s digital advertising business. Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects to build detailed user profiles and target ads on behalf of its advertising customers. Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects. Even a limited amount of location data can expose a person’s identity and routines and can be used to infer personal details.” the release stated.
One of the points Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office pointed out about these settings is that the Location History setting is automatically “off” unless it is turned on by a user, but the Web & App Activity setting, which is a separate account setting, is automatically “on” when users set up their Google account, including all Android phone users.
The legal implications of this practice that the attorneys general found are that Google violated state consumer protection laws since at least 2014. This was done by confusing users about the scope of the Location History setting and that the Web & App Activity setting existed, according to the Attorney General’s office. The attorneys general also found that Google mislead consumers about the extent they could limit location tracking by adjusting their account and device settings.
“Companies should not collect one bit of data from consumers unless they provide complete transparency about what data is collected and how it will be used,” said Skrmetti. “This is just one example of how our office is working daily to protect consumers from Big Tech, and we’re nowhere close to finished on this issue. We are going to keep fighting for Tennesseans even when it means taking on the most powerful tech companies in the world.”
The release states that the total awarded to the states in the settlements is $391.5 million, and of that amount, Tennessee will receive $14,560,086.13. In the history of the United States, this is the largest multistate Attorney General privacy settlement, according to Skrmetti’s office.
Other sanctions set in place by the settlement state that Google must be more transparent with consumers about its practices by:
- Show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off”;
- Make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden); and
- Give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage.
“The settlement also limits Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google account controls to be more user-friendly,” the release states.
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The settlement negotiations were led by the Attorneys General of Oregon and Nebraska, and they were assisted by the Attorneys General of Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. In the final settlement, Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin also joined.