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Four attorneys general sue Google for 'deceptive' location tracking



On Monday, a bipartisan group of attorneys general filed a lawsuit against Google, alleging that the technology giant used "dark patterns" and deceptive practices to track users' physical locations, even when those users attempted to block Google from tracking their locations.


Legal actions filed in the District of Columbia, Texas, Indiana and Washington state are aimed at preventing Google from collecting location data, which can be used to target advertisements and create profiles of internet users.


Since 2014, according to the lawsuit filed by the District of Columbia Attorney General, Google (GOOG) has made false public statements about how users can opt out of location tracking and that these statements have caused confusion among the public. After providing users with the ability to limit location data tracking through their Google accounts, the tech giant allegedly failed to mention how certain other settings — such as those in individual apps or other areas of Google's settings panel — could allow the tech giant to continue collecting location data without the user's knowledge.


As detailed in the lawsuit, Google also attempted to circumvent users' expressed preferences by utilizing workarounds such as IP addresses to determine a user's location, or collecting location data through Google's mobile apps. As detailed in the complaint, the allegedly illegal behavior affects virtually all mobile users who interact with Google, regardless of whether they use an Android device, an iPhone, a PC, or a tablet.


"Dark patterns," which are subtle design choices intended to nudge users toward adopting Google-friendly behavior, are said to have been used by Google in order to facilitate data collection.


Google, according to the complaint, "makes extensive use of dark patterns," which include "repeated nudging," "deceptive pressure tactics," and "evasive and deceptive descriptions of location features and settings," in order to entice users to provide increasing amounts of location data (either inadvertently or out of frustration."


A statement from Google spokesman José Castaeda said the lawsuits were based on "inaccurate claims and outdated assertions about our settings," according to the company.


In his statement, Castaeda stated that "we have always included privacy features and robust controls for location data in our products." "We will vigorously defend our position and correct the record," says the organization.


When enabled, Google's account activity data is automatically deleted after a specified period of time, according to the company's announcement in April 2019. The following year, Google announced that it would broaden the scope of this feature by making it available by default for all new accounts created on its platform. The lawsuits filed on Monday, however, are directed at Google behavior that occurred prior to those changes.


The conclusion that Google misled or deceived consumers was not "obvious and straightforward," according to an Arizona state judge who refused to grant summary judgment in a similar case brought by Arizona officials against Google earlier this year.


According to the lawsuit, Google is barred from engaging in allegedly illegal conduct and from profiting from allegedly misleading practices, and a preliminary injunction is sought.

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