Australia finds Google misled users over data collection

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A search for ‘Australia News’ on the Google homepage, arranged on a desktop computer in Sydney, Australia, on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

David Gray | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Australia’s federal court found that Google misled users about personal location data collected through Android mobile devices between 2017 and 2018, the country’s competition regulator said Friday.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) — which launched legal proceedings against Google in 2019 — said the ruling was an “important victory for consumers” with regard to the protection of online privacy.

Google misled Android users into thinking the search giant could collect personal data only if the “location history” setting was on, the ACCC said. The court found that Google could still collect, store and use personally identifiable location data if the setting for “web and application activity” was on — even if “location history” was turned off.

“This is an important victory for consumers, especially anyone concerned about their privacy online, as the Court’s decision sends a strong message to Google and others that big businesses must not mislead their customers,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in a statement.

We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal.

A Google spokesperson pointed out that the court rejected many of the ACCC’s broad claims.

“We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal,” the Google spokesperson said in a statement.

Following the ACCC’s legal proceedings, the tech giant has since improved user transparency and control, including an auto-delete function for location history and an incognito mode in its Maps product.

The ACCC said it is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, publication orders and compliance orders but did not specify the amount.

“In addition to penalties, we are seeking an order for Google to publish a notice to Australian consumers to better explain Google’s location data settings in the future,” Sims said, adding it would allow users to make informed choices about whether they should leave certain Google settings enabled.

The competition regulator and the tech giant previously faced off over a media law that would require the likes of Google and Facebook to pay for news. Australia passed that law in parliament in February.



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