Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google Sued by D.C. and Three States for ‘Deceptive’ Android Location Tracking

In August 2018, Ryan Nakashima of the Associated Press reported that Google’s location tracking settings were deceptive. Now, the company is being sued over these practices around the United States.

Adi Robertson, the Verge:

The attorneys general of three states and the District of Columbia are suing Google for the allegedly deceptive collection of location data on Android. The complaints, which build on a 2020 lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General, allege that Google’s “complex web” of settings obfuscated whether users were sharing their location at a given moment. Furthermore, they allege Google pushed Android users with “repeated nudging, misleading pressure tactics, and evasive and deceptive descriptions” to share more information either “inadvertently or out of frustration.”

The complaint is redacted in key parts, unfortunately. Even something as simple as the before-and-after of text in a permissions dialog box has been erased. But even reading between the solid bars of removed text yields some choice findings like this:

Within Google, a self-titled “Oh Shit” meeting was convened the day the AP story was published to begin brainstorming responses to the article. […]

I would not like to accept any meeting invitation labelled “Oh Shit”.

More substantively, the suit argues that Google’s control over Android and its ads business overlap to reduce user privacy. These claims are similar — but perhaps stronger — to those made in the June 2020 class action suit alleging it tracked people in Chrome’s “Incognito” mode because it also receives Google Analytics data.

Robertson:

Reached for comment, Google denied the claims in the suit, pointing to recent changes like the ability to auto-delete location history.

“The attorneys general are bringing a case based on inaccurate claims and outdated assertions about our settings,” said Google policy spokesperson José Castañeda. “We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data.”

Not mentioned by Castañeda is how the policies were in place for nearly ten years, that they were changed only after the company was caught, and how there is no indication the company erased all location data collected during this period in an arguably illegitimate way. Businesses should not be immune from the legal consequences of their actions.