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Google faces court over 'misuse of location data'

Google faces court over 'misuse of location data'

ACCC sues tech giant for lack of transparency over disabling location tracking

Credit: Dreamstime

Google Australia is being hauled to court for allegedly misleading consumers about Android location tracking.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has launched Federal Court proceedings over its collection and usage of “highly sensitive” location data between at least January 2017 and late last year.

The action specifically relates to the way certain Google Account settings were enabled or disabled on Android operating system-enabled phones and tablets.

According to the ACCC, during a two-year period, Google failed to “properly disclosed” that two Google Account settings, ‘location history’ and  ‘web & app activity’, needed to be switched off to prevent the company from collecting and using their data.

As such, according to ACCC chair Rod Simms, users thought that by just switching off ‘location history’ Google would stop collecting their location data “plain and simple”.

However, if users had a Google Account settings on their Android device, they also needed to turn off ‘web & app activity’ to completely stop location data-collection, something the ACCC alleges was not made clear to consumers.

“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,” Sims said.

“Google has collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers’ location without them making an informed choice.”

In addition, the ACCC also claimed that Google’s on-screen statements explaining how location data were misleading.

During a 14-month period from March 2017, Google allegedly displayed messages claiming location data would only be for the consumer’s use of its services and not other purposes.

“We consider that because of Google’s failure to disclose this use of data, consumers were and still are deprived of the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether to share their personal location data with Google,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC will seek penalties from the federal court, plus corrective notices and the establishment of a compliance program.

Google is already at the centre of the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry, which looks to establish a ‘specialist digital platforms branch’ to monitor the conduct of major online platforms, which also includes Facebook.

Google Australia has been contacted for comment by ARN


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