Google’s historical collection of location data has got it into hot water in Australia, where a case brought by the country’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has led to a federal court ruling that the tech giant misled consumers by operating a confusing dual-layer of location settings in what the regulator describes as a “world-first enforcement action”. The case relates to personal location data collected by Google through Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018.
Per the ACCC, the Court ruled that “when consumers created a new Google Account during the initial set-up process of their Android device, Google misrepresented that the ‘Location History’ setting was the only Google Account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept or used personally identifiable data about their location”.
“In fact, another Google Account setting titled ‘Web & App Activity’ also enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on, and that setting was turned on by default,” it wrote. The Court also ruled that Google misled consumers when they later accessed the ‘Location History’ setting on their Android device during the same period to turn that setting off because it did not inform them that by leaving the ‘Web & App Activity setting switched on, Google would continue to collect, store and use their personally identifiable location data.
“Similarly, between 9 March 2017 and 29 November 2018, when consumers later accessed the ‘Web & App Activity setting on their Android device, they were misled because Google did not inform them that the setting was relevant to the collection of personal location data,” the ACCC added. Similar complaints about Google’s location data processing being deceptive — and allegations that it uses manipulative tactics to keep tracking web users’ locations for ad-targeting purposes — have been raised by consumer agencies in Europe for years. And in February 2020, the company’s lead data regulator in the region finally opened an investigation. However, that probe remains ongoing.
The ACCC said today that it will seek “declarations, pecuniary penalties, publications orders, and compliance orders” following the federal court ruling. Although it added that the specifics of its enforcement action will be determined “at a later date”. So it’s not clear exactly when Google will be hit with an order — nor how large a fine it might face.