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Google to pay nearly $40M after Washington lawsuit over location tracking

By Lauren Rosenblatt, The Seattle Times
Published: May 22, 2023, 7:42am

SEATTLE — Google will have to pay Washington state $39.9 million and be more transparent about its location tracking settings, a King County judge ordered this week.

The order comes after the Washington Attorney General’s Office sued Google in January 2022, alleging the company misled consumers about its location tracking services and, at times, collected data without their consent. The investigation was part of a multistate effort, but Washington independently filed its lawsuit.

Google says on its website that location data plays an important role in the services it provides to consumers, like directions on Google Maps, making sure websites are shown in the right language and telling consumers what restaurants are nearby and how crowded they typically are.

In recent years, the company says it has made improvements to make location data easy to manage and understand while also minimizing the amount of data stored.

Google could not be reached for comment following the court’s order, released Thursday.

In 2018, a report from The Associated Press found many Google services on Android devices and iPhones stored users’ location data even if the consumer enabled a privacy setting that said it would prevent Google from doing so.

Washington, D.C., opened an investigation into the company in 2018. Two years later, Arizona’s attorney general filed a lawsuit arguing Google set up its Android mobile operating system in a way that enriched its advertising empire and deceived users about the protections afforded to their personal data.

In 2022, attorneys general from states including Washington, Texas and Indiana launched the multistate effort alleging Google had misled consumers about how much control they had over their data. Along with tracking Android devices even after users turn off location access and collecting location data after users disable “location history,” the lawsuit alleges Google repeatedly “nudges” users to consent to location tracking.

Following Thursday’s ruling in King County, Google will have to make changes to its practices, including giving users information about the types of location data Google collects and how it will use that data, as well as showing additional information to users when they enable a location-related account.

The $39.9 million will go toward the general fund for enforcement of the state Consumer Protection Act.