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Google faces $40 million fine in Australia over location tracking blunder

Location sharing on Android
(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Google was fined $40 million in Australia for making false claims about location tracking.
  • The Federal Court of Australia ruled that Google hid the fact that its "Web & App Activity" setting allowed it to collect location data.
  • The misleading location tracking took place between January 2017 and December 2018.

Google is occasionally involved in legal battles over its location tracking activities, and a 2019 investigation into its location data collection has now resulted in the company paying AU $60 million (approximately US $40 million) in fines for making false claims about its practices.

Australia's federal court has ordered the search giant to pay the fines for violating the country's Consumer Law. The decision stemmed from Google's misleading claim that only the “Location History” setting on Android was responsible for collecting, keeping, and using personally identifiable data about user location.

This means that Google concealed how the “Web & App Activity” setting on Android phones also allowed it "to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on," according to a press release (opens in new tab) issued by Australia’s Competition & Consumer Commission.

The ACCC added that this particular setting was enabled by default. The incident occurred between January 2017 and December 2018, prompting the ACCC to instigate proceedings against Google and its Australian subsidiary in October 2019.

"We can confirm that we’ve agreed to settle the matter concerning historical conduct from 2017-2018," a Google spokesperson told Android Central. "We’ve invested heavily in making location information simple to manage and easy to understand with industry-first tools like auto-delete controls, while significantly minimising the amount of data stored."

The company vowed to make "ongoing updates that give users control and transparency, while providing the most helpful products possible."

"This significant penalty imposed by the Court today sends a strong message to digital platforms and other businesses, large and small, that they must not mislead consumers about how their data is being collected and used," ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.

According to the ACCC’s estimate, 1.3 million Google account owners in Australia may have viewed the misleading location tracking claim. Google remedied the issue in December 2018 and stopped showing misleading screens to Android users.

In the U.S., the tech giant faced similar lawsuits filed in various states. Earlier this year, Washington, D.C.'s attorney general sued Google for allegedly duping users into sharing their location data. The AGs from Indiana, Texas, and Washington state also sued Google in their own state courts.

Jay Bonggolto
News Writer

Jay Bonggolto always keeps a nose for news. He has been writing about consumer tech and apps for as long as he can remember, and he has used a variety of Android phones since falling in love with Jelly Bean. Send him a direct message via Twitter or LinkedIn.