Google agrees record $391.5m settlement in US digital tracking case
The sum represents the largest settlement ever paid in a US digital privacy case which dates back to 2018
Google has agreed to pay $391.5 million to settle a case in which 40 US states alleged that it violated laws protecting people from being tracked electronically.
The huge sum marks the largest digital privacy settlement in US history and relates to allegations brought against the company in 2018 after it was discovered that users were being tracked even after disabling its location history feature.
Users of both Android smartphones and iPhones were found to have their location data stored on their devices even when they enabled a privacy setting that supposedly prevented such data from being stored.
The original 2018 report from the Associated Press revealed that more than 2 billion Android users were affected in the case and hundreds of thousands more iPhone users too.
“This $391.5m settlement is a historic win for consumers in an era of increasing reliance on technology,” said William Tong, attorney general for Connecticut to the Associated Press via the Guardian.
“Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects, and there are so many reasons why a consumer may opt-out of tracking.”
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Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said the company fixed the issue “years ago” and the Mountain View-based tech giant also released a blog post on Monday highlighting some of the measures brought in to promote privacy and transparency regarding location data.
The launch of auto-delete controls, incognito mode, and ‘your data’ transparency tools - available in Google Maps and Google Search - were among the main measures Google identified.
“Today’s settlement is another step along the path of giving more meaningful choices and minimising data collection while providing more helpful services,” the blog post read, written by Marlo McGriff and David Monsees - leadership staff on the product teams for Geo and Search respectively.
Google was ordered to pay $971,000 in fees relating to a separate privacy case earlier this year after it failed to disclose key pieces of evidence.
Regarding a $5 billion lawsuit from 2020, in which the company allegedly tracked users while they browsed in incognito mode, Google was fined for failing to identify witnesses in a timely fashion, and identify additional documents and data sources for the case.
It was claimed by Max Schrems, privacy activist and lawyer at NOYB, that Google’s use of Android Advertising Identifiers contravened the 2002 ePrivacy Directive.
The French data protection regulator, CNIL, was notified but no formal punishment has yet been issued as a result.
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