The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced it is suing Google for misleading consumers about its collection and use of personal location data. The case is the consumer watchdog’s first move against a major digital platform following the publication of the Digital Platforms Inquiry Final Report in July. The ACCC follows regulators in countries including the US and Germany in taking action against the way “tech giants” such as Google and Facebook harvest and exploit their users’ data. The ACCC has therefore initiated proceedings in Federal Court against Google LLC and Google Australia Pty Ltd (together, Google), alleging that they are engaged in misleading conduct and made false or misleading representations to consumers about the personal location of Google collects, keeps and uses.
ACCC Chair Rod Sims said Google “collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers’ location without them making an informed choice”.
The ACCC alleges that Google breached the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) by misleading its users in the course of 2017 and 2018, including by:
not properly disclosing that two different settings needed to be switched off if consumers did not want Google to collect, keep and use their location data
not disclosing on those pages that personal location data could be used for a number of purposes unrelated to the consumer’s use of Google services.
Some of the alleged breaches can carry penalties of up to A$10 million or 10% of annual turnover.
A spokesperson for Google is reported to have said the company is reviewing the allegations and engaging with the ACCC.
According to the ACCC, Google’s account settings on Android phones and tablets would have led consumers to think changing a setting on the “Location History” page would stop Google from collecting, keeping and using their location data.
The ACCC says Google failed to make clear to consumers that they would actually need to change their choices on a separate setting titled “Web & App Activity” to prevent this location tracking.
Google collects and uses consumers’ personal location data for purposes other than providing Google services to consumers. For example, Google uses location data to work out demographic information, target advertising, and offer advertising services to other businesses.
Digital platforms increasingly track consumers online and offline to create highly detailed personal profiles on each of us. These profiles are then used to sell advertising services. These data practices create risks of criminal data breaches, discrimination, exclusion and manipulation.