Attorney General William Tong on Monday announced that Connecticut, along with 39 other attorneys general, has reached a $391.5 million multistate settlement with Google over its location tracking practices relating to Google Account settings.
This is the largest multistate privacy settlement in U.S. history. Connecticut will receive more than $6.5 million from the settlement.
“This $391.5 million settlement is a historic win for consumers in an era of increasing reliance on technology. Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects, and there are so many reasons why a consumer may opt-out of tracking. Our investigation found that Google continued to collect this personal information even after consumers told them not to. That is an unacceptable invasion of consumer privacy, and a violation of state law,” said Attorney General Tong. “People deserve to have greater control over—and understanding of—how their data is being used. My office has been at the forefront of that effort, and we will continue to take on big tech as we move to enforce Connecticut’s new consumer privacy law.”
“Consumers have a right to know if and how their data is being used,” said DCP Commissioner Michelle Seagull. “Companies like Google have a duty to be transparent in their data collection and advertising practices, and clearly give consumers the option to opt out of data sharing, including location tracking.”
In May of this year, Connecticut passed the Connecticut Data Privacy Act—one of the first comprehensive consumer privacy laws in the country. The Act provides Connecticut consumers baseline privacy rights, including the right to access, delete, and stop the sale of their data. It also requires companies to be transparent about how they use and secure data, as well as obtain consumer consent before collecting certain categories of sensitive information—including precise location data.
Location data is a key part of Google’s digital advertising business and among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects. Even a limited amount of location data can expose a person’s identity and routines and be used to infer personal details. Google uses this data to build detailed user profiles and target ads to consumers on behalf of its advertising customers.
The attorneys general opened the Google investigation following a 2018 Associated Press article that revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.”
The article focused on two Google account settings: Location History and Web & App Activity. While Location History is “off” by default and must be enabled by a user, Web & App Activity, a separate account setting, is automatically “on” when users set up a Google account—including all Android phone users.
As detailed in the settlement, the attorneys general found that Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location tracking practices since at least 2014. Specifically, Google misled users about the scope of the Location History setting, the fact that the Web & App Activity setting existed and also collected location information, and the extent to which consumers who use Google products and services could limit Google’s location tracking by adjusting their account and device settings.
The settlement requires Google to be more transparent with consumers about its location tracking practices. In particular, Google must:
- Show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off”;
- Make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden); and
- Maintain a dedicated webpage that provides users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how that data is used.
The settlement also limits Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google to make its account controls more user-friendly.
The attorneys general of Oregon and Nebraska led the settlement negotiations, assisted by Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. The final settlement was also joined by Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.