Google is hoodwinking users into thinking their location data is safe

Four attorneys general have filed lawsuits against Google, claiming the company is purposefully vague about how it uses and stores location data.

city map for any kind of digital info graphics and print publication.

Four states’ attorneys general are suing Google for tricking consumers about how their location data is used by the company. Texas, Washington, Indiana, and D.C. are all expected to file lawsuits against the tech giant today, Washington Post reports.

“Google claims that changing your device and account settings protect your data,” tweeted Karl A. Racine, attorney general of D.C., this morning. “The truth is, since 2014, Google has systematically surveilled users no matter what settings they choose.”

The quadruple lawsuits boil down to a pretty simple accusation: that Google’s promises to protect users’ privacy with account settings have been misleading. Location data Google collects via its network of apps, websites, and smartphones is the most pressing issue the lawsuits push.

Despite its reputation as one of the less-abusive Big Tech companies, this is by no means the first time Google has faced such severe allegations of foul play.

Always watching — The lawsuit quotes 2014 as the beginning of Google’s lies, though it’s careful to note that the practice could go back further than this date. The choice of 2014 is based on settings introduced that year that ostensibly gave users more control over which data Google kept on them.

But those switches only provide the illusion of data control, these lawsuits allege. Google continues collecting location data — and plenty of other data — even if you technically opt out. This is a pretty well-documented problem, actually; the Associated Press worked with computer scientists a few years ago to confirm Google had kept tracking users even after they’d adjusted their settings.

The lawsuits also push back against the many tricks Google uses to sway users into electing themselves back into the Location History program. Google uses measures like pushy notifications to pressure users into opting in “inadvertently or out of frustration,” the lawsuit says.

Will Google ever change? — We’d like to be optimistic here and say these high-powered lawsuits will force Google to re-evaluate its priorities. But we’ve been hoping this for years.

Back in 2020, Arizona’s attorney general filed a very similar lawsuit against Google. Google’s response? “We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data.” Not exactly inspiring. Private companies have sued Google since for the same reason.

Whether or not these lawsuits finally set Google on the straight and narrow, it’s nice to see the company called out on its BS. Oversight into the company’s less-savory activities has swelled in the last few years; even the Department of Justice is taking steps to curb Google’s overwhelming power.

You can read the District of Columbia’s full lawsuit here.