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Google Sued Over Allegedly Misleading Australians On Location Data Use

Australia's consumer watchdog has accused Google of making misleading or false statements about how it collects, keeps and uses people's location data.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced on Tuesday it had launched proceedings against Google LLC and Google Australia Pty Ltd in the Federal Court.

The ACCC claims from at least January 2017, Google breached Australian Consumer Law when it made on-screen representations on Android phones and tablets which could have misled users about when location data is collected.

The representations were presented to users setting up a Google account, and users who later accessed their account settings on Android mobile devices.

Image: Getty

“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,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in a statement.

The case calls into question two Google Account settings: Location History and Web & App Activity.

The ACCC claims Google did not explain clearly to customers that both settings needed to be switched off if users didn't want their location data collected. The watchdog alleges Android users were misled between January 2017 and December 2018.

Google intends to defend the matter in court.

“We are currently reviewing the details of these allegations. We continue to engage with the ACCC and intend to defend this matter," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to 10 daily.

The description of the Location History and Web & App Activity settings shown to consumers setting up a Google Account on their Android device between 30 April 2018 and 19 December 2018. Image: ACCC

Sims claimed Google had stayed "silent" about the issue.

“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,” Sims said.

“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.”

Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said people would be "astounded at the level and range of data digital platforms like Google have about them".

"It’s up to the ACCC to use the laws at its disposal to ensure consumers are protected, particularly in this day and age when we carry the internet around with us on our mobile phones and smart watches," she said in a statement. 

"Mobile towers, Wi-Fi hotspots and apps like Google Maps bring great convenience to our lives. Let’s not kid ourselves, they also track our location and interactions, and this data is being monetised."

"It’s in everyone’s interest that consumers make informed choices about whether their data is collected and used."