Arizona Sues Google for Tracking Location Data

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The American state of Arizona sued Google. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich accuses the company of violating Android users’ privacy, by collecting their location data. Brnovich explained to the Washington Post that he seeks damages for this tracking. He has also shared a critically voiced tweet, stating that Google exploits their users’ data.

Location Data

The relationship between Google and privacy has always been an interesting one. Google has built its empire around data collection. They are able to show relevant advertisements to their users by collecting as much data about them as possible and creating a profile for them. Which is great for advertisers, since they then know who to target. The message that Google promotes is that people should be glad that they are shown personalized advertisements – it’s a service.

Google loves to get their hands on location data, which isn’t that strange. It gives advertisers the possibility to promote their services locally through Google’s advertisement platform. For instance, think about the lunchroom around the corner that now has meatball sandwiches on offer. Or the ice-cream parlor that has reopened for the summer. They want to advertise to people who live nearby.

Not Above the Law

But not everybody appreciates this service. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich thinks that Google has gone too far in collecting their data. He accuses the company of collection location data, even after Android users have opted out of this. Brnovich told the Washington Post that Google has set up their operating system in such a way that they can collect as much data as possible, and that they are hiding this from their users.

He states on Twitter that Arizona has “filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against Google for deceptive and unfair practices used to obtain users’ location data, which Google then exploits for its lucrative advertising business”. Brnovich thinks that this can no longer be justified.

“At some point, people or companies that have a lot of money think they can do whatever the hell they want to do, and feel like they are above the law,” Brnovich said. “I wanted Google to get the message that Arizona has a state consumer fraud act. They may be the most innovative company in the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re above the law.”

Users are relying on Google’s devices and services every single day. But the state’s complaint reads that “[a]t the same time, through these deceptive and unfair acts and practices, Google makes it impractical if not impossible for users to meaningfully opt-out of Google’s collection of location information, should the users seek to do so”.

Google’s Response

Google’s Response is short and to the point. Jose Castaneda, a spokesperson for Google, made a statement in which he said that the state and the “contingency fee lawyers filing this lawsuit appear to have mischaracterized our services. We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We look forward to setting the record straight”.

Disable Location Tracking

This is not the first time Google is called out for collecting people’s data without their consent. The company faced controversy in 2018 as well. Users assumed that they could disable their location tracking by switching off the location history in the settings. But it turned out that this didn’t work.

Researchers at Princeton University found out that Google simply continued collecting users’ location data. To fully disable location tracking users had to search for ‘web and app-activity’ somewhere in the settings. Google would stop collecting your location data only when this setting was disabled as well. This would mean that many of the apps and some functions on the device wouldn’t work properly anymore. But that is the price that users have to pay for their privacy.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cyber security analyst and one of the founders of Interested in the "digital identity" phenomenon, with special attention to the right to privacy and protection of personal data.