Google Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Location History Settings, Dodgy Privacy Controls
One of the neat things about Google Maps and its Timeline feature is that you can bring up view of everywhere you have been within a specific time frame—you'll see little red dots scattered on the map. What some users are finding not so cool, however, is that Google still collects location data after turning off the "Location History" option. That revelation has led to a lawsuit against Google.
The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco on Friday. In the lawsuit, Napoleon Patacsil and his attorneys allege that Google is running afoul of the California Invasion of Privacy Act.
"As revealed in the recent AP investigation—and confirmed by a team of researchers at Princeton University—Google continues to access and store the precise geolocation information of those individuals who have affirmatively turned off the Location History setting. Google modified—and continues to modify as of the date of this complaint—this and other representations after the publication of the AP Report and the resulting public outcry, as discussed in Section C, infra. 13 5. This conduct violates the California Invasion of Privacy Act," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit references an report in the Associated Press that brought all this to light. It was discovered that Google tracks a user's location when opening Maps or performing a web search via Google, and does so whether Location History is turned on or off. Following the backlash, Google updated its Help page on managing Location History to reflect this.
"You can turn off Location History at the account level at any time. This setting does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device. Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps. When you turn off Location History for your Google Account, it's off for all devices associated with that Google Account," Google states.
We bolded the relevant part of the updated text. In addition, Google removed a line of text that read, "With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored." The updated text is much clearer in what actually takes place, but the actual policies are unchanged.
The lawsuit alleges that Google mislead both Android and iOS device owners that turning off Location History would result in Google no longer tracking and recording location information. Plain and simple, the lawsuit says "Google's representation was false."
In addition, the lawsuit takes issue with the steps required to actually disable location tracking. "In order to actually prevent location tracking, an individual must navigate to a deeply buried and non-obvious setting tltled 'Wed & App Activity', " the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks class action status.