Google doesn’t even have to pay 400 million for location scams

For years, Google saved Android users’ whereabouts for advertising purposes, although users thought it was turned off. 40 US states give in cheaply.

Google Maps iconography is world-famous. (Image: Daniel AJ Sokolov)

For years, Google continued to collect the whereabouts of those affected, even though users had deactivated the storage of their cell phone’s whereabouts (“location history”). For advertising purposes, on Android phones and iPhones with Google Maps. In 2018, Associated Press (AP) journalist Ryan Nakashima revealed this. Some US states sued Google. A group of 40 states opted for out-of-court negotiations. Their result is a settlement payment of 391.5 million US dollars (around 378 million euros).

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson (Republican) and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (Democrat) led the investigation and hearings prompted by the AP report. They describe the comparison as “historic”. It is the “largest consumer privacy settlement led by US Attorney Generals in history.” That will be true, especially since the United States of America does not yet have a comprehensive data protection law. There are only special laws for the data of minors and health data.

$400 million, divided among 40 states, is a modest consolation. In 2020, Arizona sued (Arizona v. Google, Arizona Sup. Ct., Az. CV2020-006219) and settled the privacy lawsuit against Google last month with $85 million. That’s nearly $12 per capita. The big comparison with 40 states is now much cheaper for Google.

Oregon says it will get $14.8 million, and Nebraska will get $11.9 million. This corresponds to just under $3.50 or $5.95 per inhabitant. However, these sums are only so “high” because Nebraska and Oregon are compensated for the expense of the investigation and negotiations. Maryland, for example, receives just $1.40 per capita.

In the settlement, Google commits to displaying additional information when turning location history on or off, not hiding important information and at least bringing it in front of users, and generally publishing more information about the types of whereabouts data it collects. The core of the problem is that switching off the location history alone was not enough. Users should also disable “Web & App Activity”. Because this data also allows Google to compile valuable movement profiles.

Indiana, Texas, Washington, and the capital district of the District of Columbia are not included in the comparison group. These four filed lawsuits against Google earlier this year.

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