It seems you are not safe even when you turn off location tracking, and your information is still collected – at least as far as Google is concerned. A coalition of state attorneys general certainly believe so, and they have taken Google to task for it.

In the latest instance of legislation and lawsuits successfully putting a check on the usually unrestricted, questionable practices of Big Tech, Google has agreed to pay $391.5 million to settle a lawsuit with 40 state attorneys general over its location-tracking services and practices. Led by Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, this marks the largest attorney general-led consumer privacy settlement ever.

“Digital platforms like Google cannot claim to provide privacy controls to users, then turn around and disregard those controls to collect and sell data to advertisers against users’ express wishes—and at great profit,” Matthew Platkin, New Jersey Attorney General, said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleges that Google, which earns a neat sum from digital ad sales, indulged in deceptive location-tracking practices. Under these practices, Google misled users to believe that their data was no longer collected when they turned off its location-tracking services, all the while continuing to collect and use their location information, both on smartphones and other devices.

“For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy. They have been crafty and deceptive. Consumers thought they had turned off their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers,” Rosenblum said in an official statement, adding that “Until we have comprehensive privacy laws, companies will continue to compile large amounts of our personal data for marketing purposes with few controls.”

The settlement concludes a four-year-old investigation that was initiated by a report by the Associated Press in 2018, which first shed light on Google’s location tracking practices. This kicked off the investigation, which found that Google blatantly flouted state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers since at least 2014.

Considering that the internet has dealt a huge blow to user privacy, there has been much clamour and a need for ethical practices to go side-by-side with company policies regarding collecting, safeguarding, and utilizing user information, especially at a time when data keeps the digital economy running and forms a crucial part of digital advertising and targeted ads. This move by Google, to collect information while tricking users into thinking that their data is safe once location tracking is off, is far from an ethical practice.

Thankfully, the Alphabet unit seems to have learnt its lesson, and agreed to bring increased transparency about its practices. As part of the settlement, Google will show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting on or off, as well as display key information about location tracking.

Additionally, it should be upfront with users regarding what types of location data it collects and how it is used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage. To cap this off, it will provide a new control to let users easily turn off their Location History and Web & App Activity settings, as well as delete their past data easily, alongside a new information hub that highlights key location settings.

It is likely that going forward, it will be more difficult for companies to resort to such practices if the Oregon Consumer Privacy Task Force succeeds in getting legislation that will give consumers more control over their online privacy passed. If the legislation is passed, then consumers will have the right to know what personal information a firm is collecting, who sees the data or where their data has been exposed, and to get a copy of any data a corporation has on file for them. Additionally, companies would be required to remedy mistakes in personal data and adhere to basic standards when handling personal information.