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  • Tom Jowitt

Google Agrees $93m Location Tracking Settlement With California

Another settlement over Google’s location tracking practices, with agreement to pay California $93m to settle lawsuit

Alphabet’s Google division has once again made a financial settlement over its historical location tracking practices. Google on Thursday has settled a lawsuit with California, by agreeing to pay the US state $93 million for misleading consumers about its location tracking practices, according to California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Location tracking has been an issue for Google for nearly a decade now, and the search engine giant has paid many millions of dollars to settle disputes with US authorities over the matter.

California settlement

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the $93m settlement with Google “follows a multi-year investigation by the California Department of Justice that determined Google was deceiving users by collecting, storing, and using their location data for consumer profiling and advertising purposes without informed consent.”

Bonta said that in addition to paying $93 million, Google has agreed to accept strong injunctive terms to deter future misconduct.

“Our investigation revealed that Google was telling its users one thing – that it would no longer track their location once they opted out – but doing the opposite and continuing to track its users’ movements for its own commercial gain. That’s unacceptable, and we’re holding Google accountable with today’s settlement,” said Attorney General Bonta. “I want to thank my Consumer Protection Section for their work on this matter and for securing important privacy safeguards on behalf of all Californians,” Bonta added.

Alphabet’s Google division of course is headquartered in Mountain View, California.

Attorney General Bonta said that Google generates the majority of its revenue from advertising, and location-based advertising (or geotargeted advertising), which is a critical feature of Google’s advertising platform because advertisers want the ability to market to users based on their geographical locations.

Attorney General Bonta also said Google also uses their location data to build behavioural profiles of users to help determine which ads to serve users.

Google did not admit liability in agreeing to settle.

Other settlements

Google has had to dip deep into its financial reserves to settle these types of lawsuits previously.

Ever since 2014 the location tracking issue has been haunting Google.

But matters really came to a head in 2018 when an investigation by the Associated Press found that a number of Google services running on Android and Apple devices determine the user’s location and store it, even when Google’s “Location History” setting was switched off.

That discovery immediately resulted in lawsuits and a number of individual US states, including Arizona’s attorney general, who filed a lawsuit in 2020 over the matter.

Washington DC Attorney General Karl A. Racine meanwhile alleged Google was “deceiving and manipulating consumers to gain access to their location data, including making it nearly impossible for users to stop their location from being tracked.”

Then in January 2022 a group of attorneys general (AG) in the US sued Google in separate lawsuits, alleging ‘deceptive’ location tracking practices that invaded users’ privacy.

Some states including California chose to sue Google on their own. Arizona and Washington have also settled.

Google has previously pointed to this blog post from last year discussing the multistate settlement, and was quoted by Reuters as saying that the California settlement related to “outdated product policies that we changed years ago.”

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