Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Unredacted Suit Shows Google’s Own Engineers Were Confused by Privacy Settings

In 2018, Ryan Nakashima of the Associated Press reported that some Google apps and services recorded locations over time even when users had the “Location History” option switched off. This wasn’t a bug; it was a product of Google’s confusing privacy options.

Kate Cox, Ars Technica:

Newly unsealed and partially unredacted documents from a consumer fraud suit the state of Arizona filed against Google show that company employees knew and discussed among themselves that the company’s location privacy settings were confusing and potentially misleading.

[…]

“Speaking as a user, WTF?” another employee said, in additional documentation obtained by the Arizona Mirror. “More specifically I **thought** I had location tracking turned off on my phone. So our messaging around this is enough to confuse a privacy focused (Google software engineer). That’s not good.”

I don’t think comments like these are worrying. It is good that Google’s own staff is self-critical and effectively treated Nakashima’s reporting as a bug report. Nor do I believe that the cynical view that Google deliberately made these preferences hard to figure out for its advantage. The correct take is far more mundane: contrary to popular belief, Google just isn’t very good at design.