In short: Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich opened an investigation into Google’s practice of tracking its Android users in an extensive manner, according to a public filing from late August. The probe is centered on potential violations of the Consumer Fraud Act stemming from the fact that owners of Android devices are often being tracked by Google even after specifically opting out of sharing their location data. The 1967 legislation allows the state of Arizona to fine Google up to $10,000 per individual violation. Acting Division Chief Brunn Roysden and Section Chief O.H. Skinner are leading the probe.
Background: On the date of the newly reported filing, Google was named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit against the very same Android tracking practices. The plaintiff is still seeking class-action status from a state court in San Diego, alleging violations of the California Invasion of Privacy Act and the U.S. Constitution. Both developments came a week after the Associated Press published an investigation suggesting Google’s Android tracking practices are misleading and dishonest, with most mobile users being unaware that the firm is keeping tabs on them even if they specifically acted to prevent that behavior. In response to the probe, Google said its user privacy controls are prominently featured and allow users to delete their tracking histories at any time, adding that it’s only tracking users when other apps override their default privacy controls, e.g. in a scenario wherein user disabled their location tracking but then asked for directions from Google Maps.
The impact: With a population of seven million, Arizona is a home to millions of Android users, meaning the Attorney General’s investigation could theoretically cost Google over a billion dollars, though that outcome is still unlikely even if Alphabet’s subsidiary was found guilty of violating the Consumer Fraud Act. The larger litigation wave aimed against its Android tracking practices may still prompt a privacy-focused overhaul of the operating system in the near future.