Google has settled a privacy lawsuit with a coalition of 40 state attorneys general today. Google agreed to pay $391.5 million for misleading Location History settings the company was running from 2014-2020.
Google’s Location History settings have gotten it in trouble with several regulatory bodies. The action began after a 2018 Associated Press article pointed out that the “Location History” check box didn’t control all Google location history across your entire account and that many location tracking features lived under a second check box called “Web & App Activity.” Consumers might turn off the “Location History” check box thinking it stopped all Google location tracking, but it was actually only for a single Google Maps feature. Google lost a case in Australia over this setting in 2021 and recently settled a separate lawsuit with Arizona for $85 million. A few other states still have pending lawsuits.
Google redesigned its privacy settings several times since the AP article, and in a blog post on the settlement, Google said the ruling was “based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago.” As part of the settlement, Google promises to make more privacy settings changes in “the coming months,” saying the changes include:
Revamping user information hubs: To help explain how location data improves our services, we’re adding additional disclosures to our Activity controls and Data & Privacy pages. We’re also creating a single, comprehensive information hub that highlights key location settings to help people make informed choices about their data.
Simplified deletion of location data: We’ll provide a new control that allows users to easily turn off their Location History and Web & App Activity settings and delete their past data in one simple flow. We’ll also continue deleting Location History data for users who have not recently contributed new Location History data to their account.
Updated account set-up: We’ll give users setting up new accounts a more detailed explanation of what Web & App Activity is, what information it includes, and how it helps their Google experience.
Ellen Rosenblum, the Oregon attorney general, recapped the lawsuit, saying, “For years, Google prioritized profit over the privacy of people who use Google products and services. Consumers thought they had turned ‘off’ their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”
Google’s business model is almost entirely made up of tracking people and using that data to show them relevant ads across the Internet. The company’s last yearly report showed $282 billion in revenue, so for “years” of privacy violations, that $392 million settlement works out to about 12 hours of revenue.