Google has agreed to pay nearly $392 million as part of a settlement with 40 states over allegations that the company tracked people through their devices after location tracking was disabled, a coalition of companies said Monday. prosecutors.
Authorities said that since at least 2014, Google had violated consumer protection laws by misleading users about when it secretly recorded their movements. He then offered the surreptitiously harvested data to digital marketers to sell ads, the source of almost all of Google’s revenue.
“For years, Google has prioritized profit over the privacy of its users,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who led the investigation with Nebraska. “They were cunning and deceptive.”
Attorneys general say the payment is the largest multi-state privacy settlement ever.
Location data, often obtained by law enforcement as part of criminal investigations to identify suspects, is an important part of Google’s advertising business. State investigators called it “the most sensitive and valuable personal information that Google collects,” noting that it helps target people with ads based on their neighborhood.
As part of the agreement, Google has committed to making a number of changes that will make the company’s location tracking practices clearer, including showing users more information when they turn on or opt out of location tracking and providing a detailed overview of location data that Google regularly collects. on a web page accessible to consumers.
A Google spokesperson said in a statement to NPR that the practices described by prosecutors are old and have since been revamped.
“In line with improvements we’ve made over the past few years, we’ve resolved this investigation that was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google spokesperson José Castañeda said.
In a blog post following the settlement, Google said it now allows people to use Google Maps in so-called Incognito mode, preventing location data from being saved to someone’s account.
State online privacy regulations come as Washington lawmakers balk at passing comprehensive data privacy legislation in the US
Despite support from both parties for the passage of a national privacy law, Congress has failed to act, lagging behind data protection laws in Europe.
This left individual states to adopt their own online privacy protections. Five states, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah and Virginia, have passed comprehensive consumer data privacy laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
State prosecutors used Monday’s settlement to call on Washington lawmakers to enact nationwide data protections.
“Until we have comprehensive privacy laws, companies will continue to compile large amounts of our personal data for marketing purposes with few controls,” Oregon AG Rosenblum noted in a statement.
State prosecutors said they launched the investigation after an Associated Press report in 2018 found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones continued to log users’ location data even after disabling location tracking in privacy settings.
Last month, Google settled a lawsuit with authorities in Arizona for $85 million stemming from similar allegations that the tech giant deceptively deployed location tracking on phones to provide consumer data advertisers.