Google misled Android users on location data collection, alleges ACCC

The ACCC is taking legal action against Google for allegedly misleading and misrepresenting its personal location data collection practices, specifically in regards to Android users.

Updated 6 November 2019

Legal proceedings against Google LLC and Google Australia Pty Ltd (collectively referred to as Google) are set to begin in the Australian Federal Court. The ACCC claims that from at least January 2017 to late 2018, Google breached Australia Consumer Law in not sufficiently disclosing the details of how its personal location data collection worked in regards to Android users.

The case specifically refers to two Google Account settings – pertaining to both consumers setting up their Google accounts for the first time and those who later accessed their Google accounts through Android phones or tablets – ‘Location History’ and ‘Web & App Activity’.

Android location settings and web activity settings

The ACCC contends that Google did not properly disclose to Android users that both settings had to be switched off for Google not to collect, store and use their location data.

ACCC chair Rod Sims says consumers would have understood that by turning off the ‘Location History’ setting, Google would have no access to their location data “plain and simple”.

“We are taking court action against Google because we allege that as a result of these on-screen representations, Google has collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers’ location without them making an informed choice,” says Sims.

According to Sims, Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting – ‘Web & App Activity’ – had to be turned off in order to terminate Google’s capturing of location data.

As part of the case, the ACCC also alleges that from mid- to late-2018 Google conveyed to customers that the only way to prevent Google from collecting and storing user location data was to cease use of certain Google services entirely – such as Google Search and Google Maps. According to the ACCC, this was an unfair representation as the same effect can be achieved by switching off both the ‘Location History’ and ‘Web & App Activity’ settings.

“We consider that because of Google’s failure to disclose this use of data, consumers were and still are deprived of the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether to share their personal location data with Google,” Sims continues.

“Transparency and inadequate disclosure issues involving digital platforms and consumer data were a major focus of our Digital Platforms Inquiry, and remain one of the ACCC’s top priorities.”

The ACCC says it is seeking penalties, declarations and orders requiring the publication of corrective notices and the establishment of a compliance program.

A Google spokesperson tells Marketing, “We are currently reviewing the details of these allegations. We continue to engage with the ACCC and intend to defend this matter.”

Updated 6 November 2019: This piece has been updated with comments from Google.

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Image credit:Rami Al-zayat

Josh Loh
BY Josh Loh ON 4 November 2019
Josh Loh is assistant editor at MarketingMag.com.au