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Arizona attorney general files lawsuit against Google for location tracking

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit against Google for what he describes as “deceptive and unfair practices used to obtain users’ location data”. “Arizona has brought forward this action under the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act to put a stop to Google’s deceptive collection of user data and obtain monetary relief up to and including forcing Google to disgorge gross receipts arising from its Arizona activities,” the AG’s office said in its statement on the suit.

“The Attorney General and the contingency fee lawyers filing this lawsuit appear to have mischaracterized our services,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement. “We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We look forward to setting the record straight.”

Brnovich’s office started an investigation after a 2018 AP story that reported that Google was tracking users’ whereabouts even when users paused Google Maps’s Location History feature. The company was, AP reported, recording users’ location even when Location History was paused, such as when doing Google searches. Users needed to use relatively complex privacy tools offered by Google to delete this data. Google says in help documentation even today that “Some location data may continue to be saved in other settings, like Web & App Activity, as part of your use of other services, like Search and Maps, even after you turn off Location History.”

“Google’s account set-up disclosures made no mention of the fact that location information is collected though Web and App Activity, which is defaulted to “on,” until early-to mid-2018,” the AG’s office said in the statement. The lawsuit quotes Google employees’ testimony and several exhibits. At Google’s assertion, large swaths of the lawsuit are redacted. “Google willfully misleads and deceives users into enabling collection of their location data and [is] using and storing their location data in ways users do not know or understand,” the complaint says.

The suit demands that all affected consumers be paid “full restitution” and that Google effectively “disgorge” all of its revenue “by means of any unlawful practice”. The suit also asks that Google be ordered to pay the costs of the investigation and “order Google to pay Arizona a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 for each willful violation of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act”.

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Read the lawsuit.

Update (June 3): Added Google statement.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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