Google to pay Connecticut millions in 'largest multistate privacy settlement in US history'
We carry our phones everywhere, but should they track our every move? Soon you’ll have more power to stop Google apps from sharing your location, thanks to a $391 million settlement with Connecticut and dozens of other states.
"Today we are announcing the largest multistate privacy settlement in U.S. history,” said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong at a news conference in Hartford.
Tong said Google apps continued sharing users’ location, even after they turned the feature off. The states’ lawsuit claims that even when customers turned off "location history," Google still reported their exact coordinates through a little-known setting called "web and app activity."
"All of us have somehow done a search and, all of a sudden, you get a bunch of news articles or advertisements on that topic we searched,” said Michelle Seagull, the Department of Consumer Protection commissioner.
Connecticut's share of the Google settlement is $6.5 million, according to Tong. In all, 40 states are part of the deal. Arizona reached its own $85 million settlement in September. Four other states and Washington, D.C. are still pursuing lawsuits.
Tech sites say targeted ads give consumers better choices.
"Consistent with improvements we've made in recent years, we have settled this investigation, which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google said in a statement.
The investigation by the states was spurred by a 2018 Associated Press story. The AP reported that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so. Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP’s request.
Storing such data carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects.
The AP reported in 2018 that the privacy issue with location tracking affected some 2 billion users of devices that run Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions of worldwide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search.
The attorneys general who investigated Google said a key part of the company's digital advertising business is location data, which they called the most sensitive and valuable personal data the company collects. Even a small amount of location data can reveal a person's identity and routines, they said.
Google uses the location information to target consumers with ads by its customers, the state officials said.
The attorneys general said Google misled users about its location tracking practices since at least 2014, violating state consumer protection laws.
As part of the settlement, Google also agreed to make those practices more transparent to users, including showing them more information when they turn location account settings on and off and keeping a webpage that gives users information about the data Google collects.
Connecticut consumers will see even more protections soon.
This summer, Gov. Ned Lamont signed one of the nation’s first data privacy laws. Under the Connecticut Data Privacy Act, sites must tell consumers what personal information they're collecting. Users can have sites correct their information – or even delete it. Online consumers can tell sites not to sell their information – and you'll have to specifically opt-in to sharing "sensitive" information like your exact location and health issues.
"If you're a young woman going to a Planned Parenthood clinic, right?,” said Tong. “Or if you have an illness and you haven't decided when, and how, you're going to disclose that information.”