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The Federal Court has ruled that Google misled some of its Australian customers about how it collected personal location data on their Android devices between 2017 and 2018.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took Google to the stand on Friday, 16 April, over alleged misrepresentations of how the tech giant collects location data from its consumers.
Google was accused of misrepresenting its ‘Location History’ setting as being the only Google Account setting that affected whether the company collected, kept or used personally identifiable data of Android users about their location.
However, the ruling found that an additional ‘Web & App Activity’ setting, which was switched on by default, also enabled Google to collect, store and use personal location data when active – even when ‘Location History’ was switched off.
Despite being a partial win for the consumer watchdog, the ACCC said the court case represents an important victory and sends out a “strong message” to the tech giant.
“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,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
“Consumers were led to believe that ‘Location History’ was the only account setting that affected the collection of their personal location data, when that was simply not true.
“Companies that collect information must explain their settings clearly and transparently so consumers are not misled. Consumers should not be kept in the dark when it comes to the collection of their personal location data.”
The ACCC calls Google out for ‘misleading conduct’
The ACCC initiated proceedings against Google LLC and Google Australia Pty Ltd in October 2019, alleging that the tech giant “engaged in misleading conduct and made false or misleading representations to consumers about the personal location data Google collects, keeps and uses.”
The ACCC said it is currently seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties – reported to be in the millions – and compliance orders that would force Google to issue a notice to Australian consumers to better explain its location data settings in the future.
On Friday, the Court dismissed the watchdog’s allegations about the purposes for which personal location data was being used by Google. It also rejected the suggestion that Google was still misleading consumers after updating its location history statement in May 2018.
Even though the ACCC vs Google saga is far from over, Mr Sims insisted that the move “will ensure that consumers can make informed choices about whether certain Google settings that personal collect location data should be enabled.”
Google fires back with ‘possible appeal’
A Google spokesperson said in a public statement the company is currently reviewing options and the possibility of an appeal.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
“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.”