Google will pay nearly four hundred million dollars to settle outstanding claims with forty state Attorneys General, and must revise its privacy notices and practices, in connection with misleading location tracking practices. Google explicitly allows users to disable "location tracking" via the settings on their devices. However: it has for years also collected location data via another setting for "web & app activity" even if a user has turned off location tracking. The state AGs say the distinction is not clearly explained to users, and means that Google has collected location data even from users who believe they have disabled location data.
WHY IT MATTERS
The fine is eye-popping for most companies that are not Google, and is a strong signal of the importance the AGs place on this data. In addition, Google will be required to revise its location tracking practices to make them "more transparent" to users and take other steps to update its privacy practices. This kind of settlement provision generally means that the defendant company must submit to regulatory oversight of its activities for an agreed period of time.
With state privacy laws becoming more important, and state AGs becoming more interested in consumer privacy, any company that uses location data -- deemed especially sensitive by these regulators -- should be very clear about how it gathers and uses that data, and how consumers can control it. In addition, it is always a good idea to review current privacy policies and make sure they accurately describe the company's practices, and are current.