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Google got $60 million for misleading Australian users about Android phone tracking

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Technology giant Google has been fined $60 million by the Australian federal court for making misleading statements to consumers about the collection and use of their personal location data on Android phones.

The fine was the result of legal action by consumer watchdog ACCC, which sued Google in October 2019 for using location data collected from Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018, in a world’s first enforcement action.

In April last year, the court ruled that Google and its local subsidiary, Google Australia, had misled consumers about using personal location data, in violation of Australian consumer law, in a landmark legal decision.

The case revolved around a setting titled “Location History”.

Judge Tom Thawley considered three possible scenarios in terms of how consumers interacted with Google in terms of managing their Google account settings and location data and concluded that although Google’s behavior would not have misled all reasonable users in the identified classes.

“Google’s behavior has misled or is likely to mislead some reasonable users within the specific classes identified. The number or proportion of reasonable users who have been, or are likely to have been, misled is immaterial to the determination of violations,” he said.

The Court ruled that when consumers created a new Google account during the initial setup process of their Android device, Google misrepresented that the “Location History” setting was the only Google account setting that affected the collection, Google store or use personally identifiable information about their location.

In fact, another Google account setting titled “Web & App Activity” also allowed Google to collect, store, and use personally identifiable location data when enabled, and that setting was enabled by default.

ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said the size of the fine sends a strong signal to digital platforms and other companies not to mislead consumers about how their data is collected and used.

“Google, one of the world’s largest companies, was able to store the location data collected through the ‘Web & App Activity’ setting, and that saved data could be used by Google to target ads to some consumers. even if those consumers disable “Location History,” she said.

“Personal location data is sensitive and important to some consumers, and some users who have seen the images may have made different choices about collecting, storing and using their location data if the misleading images had not been created by Google.”

The ACCC estimates that about 1.3 million Google accounts in Australia may have viewed a screen that the court ruled in violation of Australian consumer law.

Google took corrective action in 2018 to address the issue.

Cass-Gottlieb said the case was the first public enforcement outcome in the wake of the ACCC investigation into digital platforms.

The ACCC and Google jointly submitted to the court that a $60 million fine was appropriate and that no separate fine against Google Australia Pty Ltd was necessary.

The court also issued injunctions requiring Google to ensure that its policies commit to comply with the rules and train certain employees about Australian consumer law, as well as contribute to the ACCC’s costs.

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