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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Minnesota settles with Google over location-tracking charges for $392M

Minnesota settles with Google for a $391.5 million judgment, along with 40 states, to conclude an inquiry into how the business monitored user locations, according to a Monday announcement by state attorneys general.

The probe was prompted by a 2018 Associated Press report that indicated Google continued to follow people’s location data even after they disabled a feature called “location history” to opt out of such tracking.

Minnesota Settles with Google

The attorneys general described the settlement as a historic victory for consumers and the biggest multistate privacy settlement in U.S. history.

The payment comes at a time of escalating discomfort around privacy and spying by digital corporations, which has prompted increasing criticism from lawmakers and scrutiny from authorities. The June decision by the Supreme Court to abolish constitutional safeguards for abortion has highlighted possible privacy issues among women seeking information about abortion or related procedures online.

The settlement would provide $8.25 million to Minnesota.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison stated in a statement, “Big Tech corporations need to be transparent with us about when and why they acquire our location data.” “Consumers should have discretion over whether their internet data, including their precise whereabouts, is monitored and monetized.”

Mountain View, California-based Google said that the issues were resolved some years ago.

“Consistent with the changes we’ve made in recent years, we’ve resolved this inquiry, which was based on obsolete product rules we altered years ago,” a company spokeswoman said.

Tracking a consumer’s location may assist tech businesses in selling digital advertisements to marketers seeking to interact with customers in the immediate area. It is another weapon in a data-gathering toolset that produces more than $200 billion in yearly ad revenue for Google, accounting for the majority of revenues flowing into the coffers of Alphabet, whose market capitalization is $1.2 trillion.

The Associated Press claimed in a 2018 article that numerous Google services on Android smartphones and iPhones save users’ location data despite a privacy option that prohibits Google from doing so. At the AP’s request, computer scientists at Princeton corroborated these results.

The police have utilized such information to establish the whereabouts of suspects, which poses a privacy danger.

Moving Forward

The Associated Press said that the privacy problem with location monitoring affects around 2 billion Android users and hundreds of millions of iPhone users who depend on Google for maps or search.

The attorneys general who studied Google said that location data, which they deemed the most sensitive and valuable personal information the firm gathers, is a vital component of the company’s digital advertising business. According to them, even a modest bit of location data might expose an individual’s identity and routines.

Google utilizes location information to target people with advertisements for its clients, according to state regulators.

Since at least 2014, Google has allegedly deceived customers about its location monitoring methods, in violation of state consumer protection laws, according to state attorneys general.

Google also promised to make these practices more visible to users as part of the settlement. This includes displaying more information when users toggle the location account settings on and off and maintaining a website that informs users about the data Google obtains.

According to internal emails that have since emerged in consumer-fraud cases, the murky monitoring revealed by The Associated Press disturbed even some Google engineers, who understood that the business may be facing a massive legal problem after the story’s publication.

Mark Brnovich, the attorney general of Arizona, launched the first state case against Google in May 2020, stating that the business misled its customers by convincing them to believe they could conceal their position by disabling location tracking in their software’s settings.

Arizona resolved its case with Google for $85 million last month, but by then attorneys general in five other states and the District of Columbia had already jumped on the business with their own lawsuits attempting to hold Google responsible for its alleged dishonesty.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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