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Google gets off easy in location tracking lawsuits

$29.5 million and we don't have to admit wrongdoing? Where do we sign?

Google has settled two more of the many location tracking lawsuits it had been facing over the past year, and this time the search giant is getting an even better deal: just $29.5 million to resolve complaints filed in Indiana and Washington DC with no admission of wrongdoing.

The cases filed in the Midwestern state and the capital are similar to those settled elsewhere in the US in the last 12 months and center on allegations that Google deceived users into handing over location data, which it then turned into billions in advertising dollars.

Karl Racine, attorney general of Washington DC until his term ended yesterday, called the settlement [PDF] a win because "Google must also make clear to consumers how their location data is collected, stored, and used." 

Racine said his office filed its suit because Google's behavior "made it nearly impossible for users to stop their location from being tracked." Washington DC's portion of the two settlements totals $9.5 million.

Indiana settled [PDF] for $20 million, which Attorney General Todd Rokita described as "another manifestation of our steadfast commitment to protect Hoosiers from Big Tech's intrusive schemes." 

According to Rokita's office, the data collected by Google "can be used to infer personal details such as political or religious affiliation, income, health status or participation in support groups – as well as major life events such as marriage and the birth of children."

As a point of reference, Google reported $69.1 billion in earnings in Q3 2022, with $13.9 billion in profits over that quarter alone.

Indiana and DC's settlement agreements are similar, particularly in their accusations and the terms agreed to regarding Google's future behavior surrounding location tracking. 

While the settlements don't mention dark patterns, DC [PDF] and Indiana's [PDF] lawsuits both include the term, which they define as using "deceptive and unfair practices that makes it difficult for consumers to decline location tracking or to evaluate the data collection and processing to which they are purportedly consenting."

The suits both allege that Google used dark patterns to mislead consumers "because location data is immensely valuable" to the company.

Both settlements require Google to add certain language to its account privacy page regarding how data is stored and what its used for, force it to notify users with a pop-up that their location history or web and app activity has been tracked and how to delete such information.

Retention requirements, such as deleting data after 30 days, were also included. Google must also regularly self-audit for compliance and open itself to external review. As was the case in a collective settlement with 40 US states and a separate one with Arizona, Google admitted no wrongdoing. 

Indiana and DC weren't included in the 40-state collective settlement, nor was Texas or Washington state, both of which have filed similar ongoing suits against Google.

We have asked Google to comment but a spokesperson referred us to this blog. ®

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