Lawsuit says Google tracks phone users regardless of privacy settings

Donna Miller
August 21, 2018

A San Diego man filed a lawsuit against Google last week, on Friday, accusing the Mountain View company of violating his privacy by secretly tracking his phone's location despite his an account setting through which he explicitly forbade the company to do so. After the revelation that just asking Google to turn off location tracking doesn't actually turn off location tracking, Wired came out with a guide detailing how to really stop the tech giant from tracking your every move.

Google user Napoleon Patacsil's response was to go to court. A judge will presumably now set about the task of determining whether a class exists for the case and how to identify its members, which could include millions of Android and iPhone users in the U.S.

On Thursday, August 16th, Google decided to make those descriptions a bit clearer by updating some language on its Location History help page to clarify that users can turn off the setting "at the account level" at any time. The negative publicity has brought increased scrutiny on Google's collection of user information, and it is becoming clear that providing more transparency is not going to be enough.

Also on August 17, attorneys form the Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote in a sternly-worded three-page letter to the FTC that Google's practices are in clear violation of the 2011 settlement with the agency.

"Specifically, in that settlement Google previously agreed it would not misrepresent anything related to: "(1) the purposes for which it collects and uses covered information, and (2) the extent to which consumers may exercise control over the collection, use, or disclosure of covered information".

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Google may have violated both of these stipulations.

Until the Associated Press story on August 13, Google's policy simply stated: "You can turn off Location History at any time".

The page had previously indicated that turning location history off meant places visited were not stored by Google. While there is a process in place to disable tracking, it is opaque and convoluted.

Instead of correcting the "Location History" feature to honor user-set options, Google responded to the scandal in the worst way possible a few days later by modifying the text used on the dashboard, clarifying that Google will track users' movements even if they set the feature to "Off".

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