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Australian Judge Finds Google Misled Users Over Location Data Collection

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The Federal Court of Australia found that Google misled users about personal location data collection, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced. Justice Thomas Thawley on Friday ruled that the internet giant misled users into thinking that it could collect, keep or use personally identifiable location data only if the “Location History” setting was on.

However, another setting titled “Web & App Activity” also allowed Google these permissions. But the company didn’t explicitly inform consumers of this. Moreover, this setting was on by default, thus enabling Google to collect personally identifiable location data from users.

The court ruling takes into account personal location data collected between January 2017 and December 2018 through Android mobile devices. During this period, when users later accessed the “Location History” setting to turn it off, Google continued to mislead them. The company didn’t tell the users that turning off location history but leaving the “Web & App Activity” setting on would continue giving it those location data privileges.

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Furthermore, between 9 March 2017 and 29 November 2018, when users accessed the “Web & App Activity” setting to turn it off, Google misled them once again. It failed to inform them that the setting was relevant to the collection of personal location data.

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome in this world-first case,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in a statement. 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.”

The ACCC is seeking declarations and penalties from Google. The Commission did not specify an amount but said it will determine that later. According to a Reuters report, the ACCC would seek a penalty in the “many millions”.

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As expected, Google disagrees and is considering an appeal

As you might expect, Google does not agree with this court ruling and is considering an appeal. A company spokesman said that the internet giant was reviewing its options. “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,” the spokesman said.

The spokesperson was perhaps referring to other ACCC allegations about “certain statements Google made about the methods by which consumers could prevent Google from collecting and using their location data, and the purposes for which personal location data was being used by Google”. The federal court has dismissed those allegations.

Google is also fighting the Australian government over the proposed pay-for-news law. The internet giant has threatened to disable Search in the country if the government forces it to pay for news.

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Google Australia misled location data
Google Australia misled location data 2
Google Australia misled location data
Google Australia misled location data 2