California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced a $93 million settlement with Google, resolving allegations that its location-privacy practices violated California consumer protection laws. The settlement follows a multi-year investigation by the California Department of Justice that determined Google was deceiving users by collecting, storing, and using their location data for consumer profiling and advertising purposes without informed consent. In addition to paying $93 million, Google has agreed to accept 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. That’s unacceptable, and we’re holding Google accountable with today’s settlement,” said Attorney General Bonta. “I want to thank my Consumer Protection Section for their work on this matter and for securing important privacy safeguards on behalf of all Californians.”
Based in Mountain View, California, Google generates the majority of its revenue from advertising, and location-based advertising (or geotargeted advertising) is a critical feature of Google’s advertising platform because advertisers want the ability to market to users based on their geographical locations. Google also uses their location data to build behavioral profiles of users to help determine which ads to serve users.
In a complaint filed with the proposed stipulated judgment, Attorney General Bonta alleges that Google deceived users in numerous ways regarding how it collected, stored, and used a person’s location data. For example, the complaint alleges that Google falsely told users that if they turned off the “Location History” setting, then Google would not store their location data. However, according to the complaint, even when a user turned Location History off, Google continued to collect and store that user’s location data through other sources. The complaint also alleges that Google deceived users about their ability to opt out of advertisements targeted to their location.
Under the settlement, Google must pay the state $93 million and be subject to a number of injunctive terms that will protect the privacy interests of California users, including requirements that Google:
- Show additional information to users when enabling location-related account settings.
- Provide more transparency about location tracking.
- Provide users with detailed information about the location data that Google collects and how it is used through a “Location Technologies” webpage.
- Disclose to users that their location information may be used for ads personalization.
- Disclose to users before using Location History data to build ad targeting profiles for users.
- Obtain review by Google’s internal Privacy Working Group and document approval for all material changes to location-setting and ads personalization disclosures that will have a material impact on privacy.