Lawsuit accuses Google of misleading consumers about location tracking

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched Federal Court proceedings targeting Google and its local subsidiary over the collection and use of location data by the Android mobile platform.

The consumer watchdog has accused the company of misleading Android users on two key counts. One is that the mobile OS continues collecting location data even if the Google Account ‘Location History’ setting is disabled, as long as the ‘Web App Activity’ setting remains switched on.

Android users are not "notified or alerted to the fact" that even if Location History is disabled, "Google may continue to obtain, retain and use Personal Data about the User's location for one or more of Google's purposes," states a court filing by the ACCC.

“Our case is that consumers would have understood as a result of this conduct that by switching off their ‘Location History’ setting, Google would stop collecting their location data, plain and simple,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“We allege that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting also had to be switched off.”

The ACCC is also claiming that the descriptions of how Google used data gathered by ‘Location History’ and ‘Web App Activity’are misleading. The court filing argues that Google claims its collection of a user’s data relates to that individual’s use of its services.

However, the ACCC says that it is used for a variety of unrelated purposes including personalising ads for other users, inferring demographic information, measuring ad performance, supplying advertising services to third parties, and producing anonymised statistics and sharing them with advertisers.

“We consider that because of Google’s failure to disclose this use of data, consumers were and still are deprived of the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether to share their personal location data with Google,” Sims said.

“We are currently reviewing the details of these allegations,” a Google spokesperson said. “We continue to engage with the ACCC and intend to defend this matter.”

“Transparency and inadequate disclosure issues involving digital platforms and consumer data were a major focus of our Digital Platforms Inquiry, and remain one of the ACCC’s top priorities,” Sims said.

In December 2018 Sims used the occasion of the inquiry’s preliminary report to reveal that the ACCC had launched five investigations related to Google and Facebook.

The ACCC in July this year released the final report of the inquiry. Among its recommendations were that the government consider forcing Google to offer Android users an EU-style choice of browsers and search services when a device is first set up.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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