Australia sues Google for allegedly misleading Android users about location data collection

Google’s
Australian arm is under fire from local watchdogs over its data collection
practices on Android devices – specifically, the counterintuitive nature of location
data settings.

On Tuesday,
October 29, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC)
instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against Google Australia Pty Ltd.,
alleging “they engaged in misleading conduct and made false or misleading
representations to consumers about the personal location data Google collects,
keeps and uses.”

The case
focuses on two Google Account settings that, only when switched off together,
prevent Google from collecting data about Android users’ location. The settings
are labelled ‘Location History’ and ‘Web & App Activity’.

“From January 2017 until late 2018, it was misleading for Google to not properly disclose to consumers that both settings had to be switched off if consumers didn’t want Google to collect, keep and use their location data,” the ACCC alleges.

“Our case is
that consumers would have understood as a result of this conduct that by
switching off their ‘Location History’ setting, Google would stop collecting
their location data, plain and simple,” said ACCC Char Rod Sims. “We allege
that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another
setting also had to be switched off.

“Many
consumers make a conscious decision to turn off settings to stop the collection
of their location data, but we allege that Google’s conduct may have prevented
consumers from making that choice,” said Sims.

Google
allegedly also misled consumers about the kill-switch by claiming that the only
way to stop Google from collecting and using customers’ location data was to stop
using certain Google services altogether, including Google Search and Google
Maps.

“However,
this could be achieved by switching off both ‘Location History’ and ‘Web &
App Activity’,” the suit alleges.

The ACCC is
seeking unspecified penalties and wants Google to publish “corrective notices”
about its data collection practices and the settings that customers can use to
regain control of their data. The commission also seeks the establishment of a
compliance program.

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