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Google sued for misleading Australian users on location tracking


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Australia’s consumer watchdog has sued Google and its local subsidiary, accusing the Alphabet Inc. company of misleading users in the way it gets permission to track their location.

 

At issue is Google’s Location History setting on Android mobile devices. The way Google represents it to users would lead them to believe that turning the feature off would be enough to stop the company from storing their location data, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleges in its lawsuit. But users in fact needed to switch off "Web & App Activity” tracking to truly block storage of location data, it said in its filing.

 

"We allege that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting also had to be switched off,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims in the statement announcing the action. A Google spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

Google’s privacy controls have drawn criticism in the past and the company has taken steps to centralise and make them more transparent. Even so, options remain fragmented across multiple settings. Google’s smartphone services store users’ locations even when privacy settings are adjusted to shut these features off, according to a report by the Associated Press that was confirmed by Princeton University researchers. Google said at the time that Location History is entirely opt-in but – even if it’s disabled – the company will continue to use location to improve user experience in search or navigation, for instance.

 

The period addressed by the complaint in Australia’s Federal Court spans from January 2017 until late 2018, and there’s a supplementary issue raised relating to the second half of 2018. The ACCC’s additional allegation is that Google misled consumers into thinking that "the only way they could prevent Google from collecting, keeping and using their location data was to stop using certain Google services, including Google Search and Google Maps”.

 

That hid the fact, it argued, that disabling location tracking could in truth "be achieved by switching off both ‘Location History’ and ‘Web & App Activity’.”

 

The ACCC seeks penalties and the setup of a compliance program for future activities, among other measures. The watchdog now has the power to levy penalties as high as 10% of revenue, Sims told reporters. 

 

Source: Google sued for misleading Australian users on location tracking (via The Star Online)

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Australian regulator files privacy suit against Google alleging location data misuse

 

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian regulator has filed a lawsuit against Alphabet Inc’s Google, accusing it of misleading smartphone users about how it collected and used personal location data, advancing a global crackdown on the world’s biggest tech firms.

 

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said the local Google unit did not tell users of its Android operating system for almost two years that they needed to switch off two settings - not one - if they did not want the company to keep their information.

 

“Google’s conduct caused users to understand that personal data about their location was not being obtained ... by Google when in fact personal data was being obtained,” the ACCC wrote in a Federal Court filing on Tuesday, which it published on its website.

 

“The misleading information provided by Google meant that users were not able to make an informed choice.”

 

A Google spokeswoman said the company would defend the matter, that the company was reviewing the ACCC’s allegations and that it would continue to engage with the regulator.

 

The lawsuit is the first of several the ACCC said it would pursue against the local arms of global technology companies like Google and social media firm Facebook Inc when it called for tougher laws concerning privacy and content-sharing.

 

Already European Union countries have seized on the bloc’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules to rein in big technology companies. In January, a French regulator fined Google 50 million euros ($55.5 million) for breaches of privacy laws.

 

Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner is also investigating Google over a complaint alleging breach of privacy laws, while Facebook agreed in July to a record-breaking $5 billion fine in the United States to resolve privacy concerns dating back to its use of people’s data in the 2016 presidential election.

 

The Australian lawsuit against Google is seeking unspecified penalties and orders requiring the publication of corrective notices by Google, the ACCC said.

 

The Australian regulator said in its lawsuit that Google failed to make clear that people should turn off two location-based settings, “Location History” and “Web & App Activity”, to stop the company collecting and using data from either.

 

Google further misled consumers - and breached Australian consumer law - by telling them the only way to prevent the company from collecting their location data was to stop using its main services like Google Search and Google Maps, the regulator said.

 

“We want declarations that the current behaviour should not continue,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims told reporters in Sydney.

 

“We want significant penalties and ... we want Google to have to let people know what has gone on, so that people have a greater awareness of what data is actually being collected here and what it is being used for.”

 

The matter is scheduled for a case management hearing on Nov. 14, according to the Federal Court website.

 

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