Internet giant Google has agreed to pay a record $391.5 million to settle with 40 states in the U.S. over charges the company misled users about the collection of personal location data.
"Google misled its users into thinking they had turned off location tracking in their account settings, when, in fact, Google continued to collect their location information," Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said Monday.
"For years Google has prioritized profit over their users' privacy. They have been crafty and deceptive," Rosenblum stated.
The investigation was sparked by a 2018 report from the Associated Press that revealed Google was continuing to track users' locations on Android and iOS even when they turned off "location history" in their account settings, effectively undermining the privacy controls.
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Rosenblum said the location data gathered by Google is combined with other personal and behavioral information it collects to flesh out detailed user profiles for purposes of ad targeting, adding even a limited amount of location data can expose a person's "identity and routines" and that it can be used to infer personal details.
As part of the privacy settlement, Google is required to show additional information to users upon either enabling or disabling a location-related setting, avoid hiding key information about location tracking, and offer specifics about the types of location data collected.
Google, in a related announcement, touted the company's auto-delete options and settings like Incognito mode on Google Maps and transparency tools that allow users to access "key location settings right from our core products." It also characterized the probe as based on "outdated product policies."
The search behemoth further said it will be rolling out more remedial changes in the upcoming months to include a streamlined account setup process that will offer a detailed explanation about users' web and app activities as well as provide simplified settings for deleting location data.
It also outlined it will make available a "single, comprehensive information hub that highlights key location settings to help people make informed choices about their data."
The development comes three months after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) fined Google AU$60 million for "making misleading representations to consumers about the collection and use of their personal location data on Android phones between January 2017 and December 2018."
Last month, the company agreed to pay the U.S. state of Arizona $85 million to settle a separate lawsuit that alleged the search giant illegally tracked users by recording location data without their consent. Google is facing similar location-tracking lawsuits in Washington, D.C., Indiana, Texas, and Washington.
For the third quarter ending September 30, 2022, Google reported total revenues of $69.09 billion and a net income of $13.9 billion. Overall revenue from advertising stood at $54.48 billion for the three-month time period.
"Until we have comprehensive privacy laws, companies will continue to compile large amounts of our personal data for marketing purposes with few controls," Rosenblum pointed out.