Credits: Wikimedia Commons

After Facebook being shoved into one controversy after another over the past few days, it seems like now it is Google’s turn, as a court in Australia has concluded that the search giant has been running a confusing set of location settings, as a part of its hunger to collect more and more details about users’ location, something it is known for.

A case against Google was brought to the court by the country’s competition regulator and consumer rights watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Rights Commission (ACCC), where the company was accused of having taken a “world-first enforcement action” in operating a location settings network that is more complex than it seems, having dual layers. The case has been filed pertaining to the collection of location data from Android users during the period between January 2017 and December 2018.

In the ruling of the trial, the court declared that “when consumers created a new Google Account during the initial set-up process of their Android device, the company misrepresented that the ‘Location History’ setting was the only Google Account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept or used personally identifiable data about their location. In fact, another Google Account setting titled ‘Web & App Activity’ also enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on, and that setting was turned on by default.”

The court also held that Google once again failed to inform users that it would continue to collect and store personally identifiable location data using the Web & App Activity setting, even if users decided to turn off the Location History setting a a later time during the period under scrutiny. The ACCC also quipped in, saying that users were once again misled when they visited the setting or Web & App Activity, as they were not informed of its relevance in their location history.

This is not the first time that Google’s ways of collecting location data from users has come under question. The issue has for years been a hot topic for consumer rights forums in Europe, and a formal probe (which still has not ended) was launched into the matter by the firm’s lead data regulator in the region, back in February 2020. The CNIL, the data watchdog in France, had levied a fine of $57 million against the company, after it failed to maintain the level of transparency demanded by the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) of the European Union. This by far remains the largest fine levied to a tech company under the GDPR, and is slightly tarnished only by the fact that the same France favored a sanction of $120 million to Google, after it agreed to stop tracking cookies without consent.

As of now, Google is “exploring its legal options”, and looking at methods for a “possible appeal”. The statement released by the company said, “The court rejected many of the ACCC’s broad claims. We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal. We provide robust controls for location data and are always looking to do more — for example we recently introduced auto delete options for Location History, making it even easier to control your data.” The ACCC, on the other hand, is celebrating the victory, as expressed by Chair Rod Sims, who said, “This is an important victory for consumers, especially anyone concerned about their privacy online, as the Court’s decision sends a strong message to Google and others that big businesses must not mislead their customers.”

That being said, the appeal may or may not work in favor of the company, as Australia seems to be looking to disarm the likes of Google and Facebook,  as it recently passed a and mandatory news media bargaining code, so as to bring balance into the equation between publishers and social media giants, on the reuse of journalism content.