Google throws California $93M to make location tracking lawsuit disappear

Half a percent of last quarter's net income? That'll teach 'em

Google has been hit with another lawsuit alleging it deceived users about its collection, storage, and use of their location data, this time from the state of California. Yet it's over before it really began.

The lawsuit [PDF] came along with a same-day settlement [PDF] for $93 million to be paid to the state. In addition to the fine, Google has also agreed to be more transparent about location tracking, disclose to users how their location data is used, and the like.

As we often note when these sorts of stories happen, Google's fine equates to around half a percent of its Q2 2023 net income of $18 billion.

According to the California AG's office, Google's settlement naturally doesn't include an admission of guilt, but follows a multi-year investigation "that determined Google was deceiving users by collecting, storing, and using their location data for consumer profiling and advertising purposes without informed consent," so take that for what you will.

As has been the case in similar lawsuits filed against Google, California alleges that Google designed its location tracking system to deceive users into allowing the collection of location data that could be sold to advertisers for Google's benefit. Even when such collection was disabled, the California suit alleged, data was still collected through other sources; Google was also misleading about users' ability to opt out of location-based ad targeting, California claims.

"Our investigation revealed that Google was telling its users one thing – that it would no longer track their location once they opted out – but doing the opposite and continuing to track its users' movements for its own commercial gain. That's unacceptable, and we're holding Google accountable with today's settlement," said California AG Rob Bonta. 

This marks, by our count, the fifth case that Google has settled related to tracking of location data, and its second largest fine, though that's not saying much. Forty US states that collectively sued Google over the same issue squeezed just $391.5 million out of Google late last year – a little under 3 percent of Google's net income the quarter it settled. 

Prior to the 40-state settlement, Google also paid $85 million to Arizona to settle similar location-tracking issues, and this year Google was forced to fork out $29.5 million to Indiana and Washington DC, and another $39.9 million to Washington state. A similar case in Texas is ongoing.

Officials from states involved in the various settlements have described them as "historic" and holding "one of the most powerful corporations accountable," which is hard to take seriously when even the largest fine is barely likely to merit a second glance from a Google accountant.

"Consistent with improvements we've made in recent years, we have settled this matter, which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago," a Google spokesperson told The Register, as well as referring us to a blog post about new location data management features Google added in the wake of the 40-state settlement. ®

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