Australia’s competition watchdog has Google in it sights over allegations the tech giant made false or misleading claims about the personal location data it was collecting.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission began proceedings against the tech giant in the Federal Court in NSW on Tuesday,
The world-first action alleges Google breached the law through on-screen representations made as users set up accounts on Android mobile phones and tablets.
The ACCC says when people set up their Google accounts on phones and tablets between January 2017 and late 2018, they would have incorrectly believed that “Location History” was the only setting that affected whether the company was collecting a user’s location data.
In fact, the setting “Web & App Activity” also had to be switched off if users didn’t want their location data collected.
“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,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said in a statement on Tuesday.
News: Google allegedly misled consumers on collection and use of location data https://t.co/JWSORxklI3
— ACCC (@acccgovau) October 29, 2019
Late in 2018, the consumer watchdog released a reporting outlining the surprising amount of user data collected by tech giants such as Google and Facebook.
The report cited the example of an ACCC employee who downloaded the data attached to their Google family account.
It included 51 products and services accessed through Google between 2011 and 2018, with credit card type and expiry date, and names and addresses from a Google group.
But it also included a recording of every question asked to the family’s Google Assistant by various family members, including children. It included copies of photographs from previous devices that had not been transferred to new devices or stored in the cloud.
The data included location data from different products and services, with every stored photo having attached geodata.
Mr Sims said the ACCC’s case against Google was that consumers would have considered switching off their ‘Location History’ setting would meant it stopped collecting their data “plain and simple”.
“We allege that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting also had to be switched off,” he said.
“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.”
Google says it will fight the claims.
“We are currently reviewing the details of these allegations,” a spokeswoman said.
“We continue to engage with the ACCC and intend to defend this matter.”