Google has agreed to a settlement with 40 states regarding charges related to unwanted location tracking of customers.
The company will pay $391.5 million in a settlement regarding claims that it kept tracking customers after they had shut off location tracking. A group of state prosecutors announced the agreement on Monday, and the attorneys general said it was the biggest multistate privacy settlement ever paid.
Officials claimed that since at least 2014, Google has deceived users about what times it was tracking them and violated consumer protection laws in doing so. It secretly tracked them when they thought they weren’t sharing their location, and then used the information for online marketers to sell ads.
The attorneys general said that up until May 2018, the company was even keeping track of consumers’ locations who had logged out of Google applications.
“For years, Google prioritized profit over the privacy of people who use Google products and services,” Ellen Rosenblum, the Oregon attorney general, said. Rosenblum spearheaded the case alongside Nebraska. “Consumers thought they had turned ‘off’ their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”
The company’s location tracking abilities have been a concern across the nation. Google is being sued by other jurisdictions as well, such as Washington, D.C., Indiana, and Texas for allegedly misleading location tracking. It already settled a location tracking lawsuit with Arizona last month for $85 million.
A Google spokesperson told NPR in a statement that the strategies the prosecutors pointed to are antiquated and have since been changed.
“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google Spokesperson José Castañeda said.
After the settlement, Google posted a message on its blog, saying, “[a]s well as a financial settlement, we will be making updates in the coming months to provide even greater controls and transparency over location data.”
The changes involve including “additional disclosures” for certain pages and “creating a single, comprehensive information hub that highlights key location settings to help people make informed choices about their data.” The company will also offer a new tool that lets users shut off “their Location History and Web & App Activity settings and delete their past data in one simple flow.” It will also provide more information to users creating new accounts about “what Web & App Activity is, what information it includes, and how it helps their Google experience.”