Indiana, others sue Google, saying it invades users’ privacy

Keywords Law / Lawsuits / Technology

The District of Columbia, Indiana, Texas and Washington are suing Google for allegedly deceiving consumers and invading their privacy by making it nearly impossible for them to stop their location from being tracked.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in a District of Columbia court, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine alleges Google has “systematically” deceived consumers about how their locations are tracked and used. He also says the internet search giant has misled users into believing they can control the information the company collects about them.

“In reality, consumers who use Google products cannot prevent Google from collecting, storing and profiting from their location,” the lawsuit says. Google has “an unprecedented ability to monitor consumers’ daily lives.”

Google makes it impossible for users to opt out of having their sensitive and valuable location data tracked, the suit alleges.

“Google’s business model relies on constant surveillance of its users,” Racine’s office said in a news release. The D.C. suit asserts that Google has “a powerful financial incentive to obscure the details” of its location-data collection and to make it difficult for consumers to opt out. It says location data is a key part of its digital advertising business that generated $150 billion in revenue for Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., in 2020.

The attorneys general of Indiana, Texas and Washington filed similar lawsuits in their state courts on Monday.

“Protecting Hoosiers from Big Tech’s deceptive and unfair practices continues to be a major focal point of my administration,” Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said in written remarks. “Consumers tend to believe the promises that companies make to them, and I’m here to hold businesses accountable when they unlawfully betray consumers’ trust.”

Google, based in Mountain View, California, is disputing the claims.

“The attorneys general are bringing a case based on inaccurate claims and outdated assertions about our settings,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement. “We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data.”

The company will defend itself and “set the record straight,” Castaneda said.

Google says that in recent years it has made several improvements to make location data easy to manage and understand, and has minimized the amount of data stored.

The lawsuits are the latest in a raft of legal salvos against the tech giant, whose search engine accounts for an estimated 90% of web searches worldwide.

In December 2020, 10 states led by Texas filed a federal suit against Google accusing it of “anticompetitive conduct” in the online advertising industry, including a deal to manipulate sales with rival Facebook.

In October 2020, the U.S. Justice Department joined by 11 states filed a landmark antitrust suit against Google for allegedly abusing its dominance in online search and advertising. The suit asked the court to order structural changes “as needed” for Google, opening the door to possible fundamental changes such as a spinoff of its Chrome browser.

European regulators in recent years have imposed multibillion-dollar fines on Google over competition issues, in an effort to curb its clout on the continent. Google, one of the world’s most profitable companies, helped Alphabet ring up $18.9 billion in revenue in last year’s July-September quarter.

Bipartisan legislation advanced last week by a Senate panel would bar the dominant online platforms—Google, Meta (formerly Facebook), Amazon and Apple—from favoring their own goods and services over those of competitors. It could, for example, bring restrictions for Google’s search engine, which routinely places its services at the top of search results.

The new lawsuits mirror one brought by Arizona in May 2020, similarly accusing Google of deceiving consumers about protections for their personal data. A year ago, an Arizona judge rejected the state’s request for summary judgment, ruling that the state didn’t have sufficient evidence and saying the case should go before a jury. The judge said that the state relied heavily on internal Google communications, none of which state definitively that consumers were misled.

Documents unsealed in the Arizona case in August 2020 revealed that Google’s own engineers were troubled by the way the company secretly tracked the movements of users who didn’t want to be followed.

Racine’s office said it began its investigation following publication of an Associated Press investigation in August 2018 showing that Google records users’ movements even when they explicitly tell it not to, through the “Location History” setting. Computer-science researchers at Princeton University confirmed the findings at the AP’s request.

Inside Google, a self-titled “Oh S—“ meeting was convened the day the AP story was published to come up with responses, the new D.C. filing says. Afterwards, Google updated its Help Page to remove the misleading point, “With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,” the suit says.

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One thought on “Indiana, others sue Google, saying it invades users’ privacy

  1. Please tell me this is a joke. These legislators are fooling themselves. Anyone who expects privacy on the internet, a cell phone, tablet or portable computer; you are being tracked. Your phone is on all the time, even when you have turned it off; and it’s tracking you. Even land lines track who you are calling, who is calling you, and how long you spend on the phone. Why aren’t Verizon, T-Mobile & AT&T included? Other tracking devices include Banks & credit cards are included, anytime you spend more than $500, the Federal government is informed. I would not be surprised if credit cards share information if you buy alcohol, tobacco or gamble. Even the Post Office is photographing every envelope you receive, that why you can see what letters will be delivered. Now, phone calls can not be listened in on nor letters read. Then all of this Covid tracking, you are giving a nurse and the pharmacy or clinic, your Social Security & drivers license numbers and are privy to your shots and much of your medical history. The same hold true for hospitals and insurance companies because you tell them everything. Police take your DNA when arrested, as do know what you don’t tell them, your hair & blood samples reveal your history. The same thing happens at your Doctor or having to go to the hospital. Car insurance companies and if you buy a car on time, expect a tracking device to tell them where you are and how dangerously you are driving. Do not trust Flo, she is in on it. Police cars with license plate readers trolling parking lots, toll roads, and parking lots are very effective at catching felons and stolen cars Cameras on the street are connected to facial recognition computers. Even the cable company knows exactly what you are watching and what web sites you visit. Alexa is recording everything she can hear, as several murders have been solved by law enforcement requesting that information from Amazon, Facebook, or Google. Everyone of these entities are now tools of the government. Will the Federal Government allow such a lawsuit to succeed? No, because the IRS, FBI, CIA all rely upon this information. Why do you think banks, telecommunication companies, and the delivery services have been able to consolidate to such a degree; because it’s much easier to make them comply. When I got my driver’s license with a star on it, I had to show my passport, drivers license, and several recent bills to prove who I am. Recently, My health insurance and accountants have been hacked, they knew everything about me. Was it foreigners or was it U.S.? We have no secrets nor should we expect too. Does this bother me? No. I am not breaking laws nor have anything to hide. It probably makes me and all law abiding citizens safer. So this lawsuit is a public relations charade. – Steven Pettinga, Indianapolis

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