April 22, 2021
After years of being pursued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for consistently breaking consumer laws, the law finally caught up with Google (at least for some of the charges).
The mighty tech giant (whom we wrote about before) was found guilty of misleading its users about the personal location data collected from their Android and Pixel devices. The violation in question happened between January 2017 and December 2018.
According to ACCC Chair Rod Sims, “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.”
Google is considering submitting an appeal due to their displeasure with the decision of the Australian Court.
How Did Google Trick Its Users?
Upon the setup of their devices, users were offered the choice of allowing Google to collect their location history. Logically, this would mean that if a user refused, their data wouldn’t be collected. However, in reality, even if they clicked “No” or “Do not collect” when prompted, their data would still be collected. This was done through a “hidden” setting in “Web & App Activity.”
It was never explicitly stated that a setting in “Web & App Activity” involves data collection, leaving users with the impression that disabling “Location History” keeps their data from being collected. This allowed Google to continue collecting data while giving its users a false sense of safety.
Justice Thomas Thawley, who made the decision, concluded, “Google’s conduct would not have misled all reasonable users in the classes identified; but Google’s conduct misled or was likely to mislead some reasonable users within the particular classes identified.” This is why his verdict was that Google “partially misled” users.
What Are the Repercussions?
Modern technology is making privacy increasingly harder to preserve, and this is just one of the many cases when companies use shady practices and loopholes to access users’ data. This data is valuable since it’s used to optimize their services, but companies often sell it to advertisers, making the user a target for unwanted advertisements and potential misuse of their data (e.g., identity theft), which forces them to spend valuable time or even pay for services to undo the damage.
At this point, it’s clear to everyone that companies must practice transparency, especially when it comes to their users’ privacy. This avoids misunderstandings and builds trust within the companies’ userbase.
As for Google, it seems intent on improving its practices. A spokesman recently 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.”
This is undoubtedly good news. However, it’s still essential that companies keep being held accountable for their practices, ensuring safe and transparent services for their users.