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Lawsuits & Litigation

Lawsuit Accuses Google of Tracking Consumers’ Movements Without Consent

— August 22, 2018

A lawsuit accuses Google of tracking consumers’ movements and data even when they’ve ticked options to opt out.

The complaint, filed Friday, accuses the company of offering customers false assurances. Google users are told they won’t be tracked if they turn off the service’s “Location History.” However, services like Maps may continue doing just that—regardless of which preferences are selected.

“Google represented that a user ‘can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.’ This simply was not true,” says the suit, which was registered in a San Francisco federal court.

Reuters names the plaintiff as Napoleon Patacsil of San Diego. Patacsil is seeking class action status for the suit.

If a class action request is granted, U.S. consumers with Android and Apple devices could be eligible to join, provided they use Google services and switched off Location History.

Patacsil is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, alleging that the company intentionally flouted California’s privacy laws and unlawfully intruded into people’s private affairs.

‘The alleged tracking by the unit of Mountain View, California-based Alphabet Inc was described in an Aug. 13 Associated Press Article,’ reports Reuters, ‘which said it was confirmed by computer science researchers at Princeton University.’

User screenshot showing Google’s location tracking without History turned ‘off.’ Image by Ryan J. Farrick.

Neither Google nor Patacsil’s legal counsel responded to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Patacsil, for his part, says that Google ‘illegally tracked him on his Android phone and later on his iPhone, where he had downloaded some Google apps.’

According to Patacsil and as reported by Reuters, Google’s ‘principal goal’ was to ‘surreptitiously monitor’ its users while allowing third parties to do the same.

The BBC gives some examples of how and when Google records consumers’ whereabouts. For example:

  • Google takes and stores snapshots of where users are whenever they open its Maps application;
  • Weather updates, available on Android phones, automatically retrieve location information;
  • Searches that aren’t region- or area-specific still retrieve a device’s precise latitude and longitude

The Associated Press created a visual map of Princeton researcher Gunes Acar’s movements through New York City. Even though Acar’s Android had location history switched off, the map ‘showed his train commute’ and ‘visits to The High Line park, Chelsea Market, Hell’s Kitchen, Central Park and Harlem. It also revealed his home address.’

To stop Google from obtaining that sort of geographical information, consumers have to disable another setting, Web and App Activity.

Web and App Activity, writes the BBC, is enabled by default. The function’s description doesn’t mention anything about location tracking.

Responding to the Associated Press’s report, Google said: “There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people’s experiences, including: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location Services.

“We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time.”


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