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District of Columbia: AG announces $9.5M settlement with Google for deceptive location tracking practices

The District of Columbia Attorney General ('AG'), Karl A. Racine, announced, on 30 December 2022, that the District had reached a $9,500,000 settlement with Google LLC to resolve allegations that Google had deceived and manipulated consumers to gain access to their location data.

Background to the case

In particular, the AG noted that it had opened an investigation into Google's location tracking practices following a 2018 Associated Press story on Google's location data tracking activities.

Findings of the AG

Following its investigation, the AG concluded that Google engaged in deceptive practices including a number of dark pattern practices, which trick or coerce consumers into taking actions that do not benefit them. In addition, the AG detailed that Google's dark patterns repeatedly prompted users to enable location in certain apps, claiming products would not function properly if location was not enabled, when location was not needed to use the app.

Outcomes

In light of the above, the AG filed a complaint based on violations of §28-3901 of the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, D.C. Code which included:

  • making it impossible for users to opt out of having their location tracked;
  • deceiving users about their ability to protect their privacy through account settings;
  • misleading Android users about their ability to protect their privacy through their device settings; and
  • relying on dark patterns to undermine users' informed choices.

Further to the above, the AG highlighted that it had reached a settlement which requires Google to pay $9,500,000 in penalties and implement changes including, among other things:

  • notifications to users who currently have certain location settings enabled;
  • clearly inform users of data collection when they enable location-related Google account settings;
  • maintain a webpage that discloses Google's policies and practices concerning location data;
  • improve users' ability to identify location-related controls;  
  • limit sharing of users' data and retention of data; and
  • prepare annual compliance reports.

Furthermore, the settlement states that, within 180 days of the effective date, Google must prepare a report detailing their compliance with the settlement. In addition, the settlement states that it will apply to Google, its directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents, affiliates, parents, subsidiaries, predecessors, assigns, and successors for a period of five years from the final implementation date.

You can read the press release here and the settlement here.