ACCC takes Google to court over misleading use of user location data

Written on the 29 October 2019 by Business News Australia

ACCC takes Google to court over misleading use of user location data

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ('ACCC') has launched proceedings in the Federal Court against Google, alleging the Silicon Valley giant misused users' location data.

The watchdog claims that from at least January 2017, Google breached the Australian Consumer Law when it made on-screen representations on Android mobile phones and tablets that the ACCC alleges misled consumers about the location data Google collected or used when certain Google Account settings were enabled or disabled.

The representations were made to consumers setting up a Google Account on their Android mobile phones and tablets, and to consumers who later accessed their Google Account settings through their Android mobile phones and tablets.

"We are taking court action against Google because we allege that as a result of these on-screen representations, Google has collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers' location without them making an informed choice," says ACCC Chair Rod Sims.

The case revolves around allegations that Google mislead customers by not directing them to switch off two separate Google Account settings if they did not want Google to store user location data.

In order to direct Google to not retain user location data both the 'Location History' setting and the 'Web & App Activity' setting had to be switched off.

The ACCC alleges that because Google did not make it clear to consumers that both had to be switched off this amounted to misleading conduct.

"Our case is that consumers would have understood as a result of this conduct that by switching off their 'Location History' setting, Google would stop collecting their location data, plain and simple," says Sims.

"We allege that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting also had to be switched off."

"Many consumers make a conscious decision to turn off settings to stop the collection of their location data, but we allege that Google's conduct may have prevented consumers from making that choice."

The ACCC also alleges that Google mislead consumers about how the tech giant would use their location data.

From March 2017 when a consumer accessed the 'Web & App Activity' settings, and from May 2018 when a consumer accessed the 'Location History' setting, Google displayed on-screen messages that represented that location data would only be collected and used by Google for the consumer's use of Google services.

Google did not disclose that the data may be used by Google for a number of other purposes unrelated to the consumer's use of Google's services.

In addition to using location data for its own services Google uses it for advertising purposes, including to personalise advertisements, to infer demographic information, to measure the performance of advertisements, to promote advertising services to third parties, and to produce statistics about users to be shared with third party advertisers.

"We consider that because of Google's failure to disclose this use of data, consumers were and still are deprived of the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether to share their personal location data with Google," says Sims.

"Transparency and inadequate disclosure issues involving digital platforms and consumer data were a major focus of our Digital Platforms Inquiry, and remain one of the ACCC's top priorities."

This latest crackdown on the tech giant follows the ACCC's recent inquiry into digital platforms.

The report detailed how tech giants like Facebook and Google use their unfettered power to distort companies' ability to compete, and suggested that the sector requires "holistic reform" to stop the platforms from growing further out of control.

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