Attorney General Josh Shapiro Announces $391 Million Settlement with Google Over Location Tracking Practices

November 14, 2022 | Topic: Consumers

HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced today that he and 39 other Attorneys General joined a settlement agreement with Google over its location tracking practices relating to Google Account settings. This $391,500,000 settlement is the largest multistate Attorney General privacy settlement in the history of the United States. Pennsylvania is set to receive $19,670,434 from this settlement. 

Right now, consumers are beholden to Google’s promise that Big Tech knows what’s best for users’ data,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “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. My office will continue to fight to ensure consumers can control when and how their personal data is collected.” 

Location data is a key part of Google’s digital advertising business. Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects to build detailed user profiles and target ads on behalf of its advertising customers. Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects. Even a limited amount of location data can expose a person’s identity and routines and can be used to infer personal details. 

The attorneys general opened the Google investigation following a 2018 Associated Press article that revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.” The article focused on two Google account settings: Location History and Web & App Activity. Location History is “off” unless a user turns on the setting, but Web & App Activity, a separate account setting, is automatically “on” when users set up a Google account, including all Android phone users. 

As detailed in the settlement, the attorneys general found that Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location tracking practices in various ways since at least 2014. Specifically, Google caused users to be confused about the scope of the Location History setting, the fact that the Web & App Activity setting existed and also collected location information, and the extent to which consumers who use Google products and services could limit Google’s location tracking by adjusting their account and device settings.

Under the settlement, Google has agreed to a series of provisions designed to give consumers more transparency into Google’s practices, including:

  • Requiring Google to show additional information to users whenever they turn an account setting “on” or “off”;
  • Making key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden); and
  • Creating an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage where users can get detailed information about the type(s) of location data Google collects and how it’s used.

The settlement also puts limits on Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google account controls to be more user-friendly.

Pennsylvania served on the Executive Committee of the Multistate investigation, which was handled by Senior Deputy Attorney General Timothy R. Murphy, along with Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and assisted Oregon and Nebraska who led the settlement negotiations.. The final settlement was also joined by Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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