ACCC strikes victory against Google in location tracking misuse case

ACCC strikes victory against Google in location tracking misuse case

Wins Federal Court case over personal location data collected by Android phones.

Credit: Google

Google Australia has lost its court battle with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in a landmark case relating to its data privacy settings. 

The Federal Court found that Google misrepresented its privacy settings to consumers on its Android mobile operating system, affecting up to 6.3 million users.  

The court found that Google misrepresented that its ‘Location History’ setting was the only Google Account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept or used personally identifiable data about a new users’ location.  

However, another setting, ‘Web & App Activity’, also collected users’ location data when activated, a setting that was turned on by default, in what the ACCC claimed was misleading.  

This affected 6.3 million users who opened a Google Account on their Android phone during the period January 2017 to August 2019.

Meanwhile, users who attempted to turn off Location History were not told leaving Web & App Activity on meant Google would still harvest an Android device’s location data. 

This omission, which occurred between 9 March 2017 and 29 November 2018, was also found to be misleading by Justice Michael Thawley. 

“This is an important victory for consumers, especially anyone concerned about their privacy online, as the Court’s decision sends a strong message to Google and others that big businesses must not mislead their customers,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said. 

“Today’s decision is an important step to make sure digital platforms are up front with consumers about what is happening with their data and what they can do to protect it.”  

The ACCC is seeking a number of penalties from Google, reportedly totalling millions of dollars, which will be determined at a later date. 

Sims also said the ACCC is seeking an order for Google to publish a notice to Australian consumers to better explain Google’s location data settings in the future. 

In a statement, a Google spokesman said: “The Court rejected many of the ACCC’s broad claims. We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal. We provide robust controls for location data and are always looking to do more — for example we recently introduced auto delete options for Location History, making it even easier to control your data.” 

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