Google to Pay California $93 Million to Settle Location Tracking Lawsuit

Google was accused of deceiving users about its practices for collecting, storing, and using location data.
Google to Pay California $93 Million to Settle Location Tracking Lawsuit
The logo for Google LLC at the Google Store Chelsea in Manhattan, New York, on Nov. 17, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
Aldgra Fredly

Google will pay $93 million to the state of California to settle allegations that it was collecting and using consumers' location data without their consent, the state's attorney general said on Thursday.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement on Sept. 14 that Google agreed to pay the settlement and accepted strong injunctive terms to deter future misconduct.

"Our investigation revealed that Google was telling its users one thing – that it would no longer track their location once they opted out – but doing the opposite and continuing to track its users' movements for its own commercial gain," Mr. Bonta said.

The settlement follows a multi-year investigation by the California Department of Justice, which found that Google was "deceiving users by collecting, storing, and using their location data for consumer profiling and advertising purposes without informed consent."

Google generates most of its revenue from advertising, and its location-based advertising plays a crucial role as it allows advertisers to target users based on their geographical locations. The state said that Google also uses location data to create "behavioral profiles" of users.

In his complaint, Mr. Bonta alleged that Google deceived users "in numerous ways" regarding its practices for collecting, storing, and using location data, violating California's consumer protection laws.

For example, the complaint says that Google continued to collect and store users' location data despite having assured users that deactivating their location history setting would disable such storage.

"That's unacceptable, and we're holding Google accountable with today's settlement," the attorney stated.

As part of the settlement, the tech giant will need to adhere to certain requirements, such as providing more transparency about its location tracking and disclosing to users that their location information could be used for targeted ads.

Google is also required to show additional information to users when enabling location-related account settings. The proposed stipulated judgment remains subject to court approval, the state said.

Google Pays $391 Million to 40 States

In November last year, Google reached a $391.5 million settlement with 40 states to resolve complaints about its location tracking practices, the largest privacy settlement led by multi-state attorney generals in the history of the United States.

The attorneys general opened the Google investigation after a 2018 Associated Press article revealed that the company continued to track people's location data even when they had opted out of such tracking by disabling a feature called "location history."

The attorneys general said a key part of the company’s digital advertising business is location data, which they called the most sensitive and valuable personal data the company collects. Even a small amount of location data can reveal a person’s identity and routines, they said.

The attorneys general said Google had misled users about its location tracking practices since at least 2014, violating state consumer protection laws.

"Google’s impact on the lives of everyday Americans is pervasive—they have a responsibility to consumers to ensure that the data they collect is only obtained with express consent from the user," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.

As part of the settlement, Google also agreed to make those practices more transparent to users. That includes showing them more information when they turn location account settings on and off and keeping a webpage that gives users information about the data Google collects.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed the first state action against Google in May 2020, alleging that the company had defrauded its users by misleading them into believing they could keep their whereabouts private by turning off location tracking in the settings. Arizona settled its case with Google for $85 million last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.