Google will pay $392 million to 40 states in largest-ever US consumer privacy settlement

Andrew Kelly / reuters

Google has agreed to pay $391.5 million to settle charges brought forth by 40 attorneys general. They accused the company of misleading users into believing they had turned off location tracking in their settings, but Google continued to collect information about their movements. As part of the settlement, Google has agreed to "significantly improve" its location tracking disclosures and user controls starting next year.

“For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy,” Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum, who led the case along with Nebraska AG Doug Peterson, said in a statement. “They have been crafty and deceptive. Consumers thought they had turned off their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”

The AGs opened the investigation in 2018 following an Associated Press report suggesting that Google tracks location data even after users ask it not to. The report indicated that turning off the Location History setting didn't stop Google from knowing where a user was. Some apps, such as Maps and Search, still created a snapshot of their location on their Google account. Although it was possible to remove this data from one's Google account, doing so was "laborious," the AP noted.

The AGs determined that Google violated state consumer protection laws since at least 2014 by misleading consumers about its location tracking practices. They claimed that the company "confused its users about the extent to which they could limit Google’s location tracking by adjusting their account and device settings." They noted that this is the largest-ever consumer privacy settlement by US states (Meta, then known as Facebook, agreed to pay $5 billion to settle FTC charges over the Cambridge Analytica scandal).

According to a press release from the Oregon AG's office, Google has agreed to:

  • Show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off”;

  • Make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden); and

  • Give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage.

Last month, Google agreed to pay Arizona $85 million to settle a 2020 lawsuit accusing it of tracking users for targeted ads even after they switched off location data settings. The company is facing other location tracking suits filed by AGs in Washington DC, Texas, Washington and Indiana.