Unsealed Documents: Google Employees Knew Location Privacy Settings Were Misleading

September 1, 2020

Documents recently disclosed in Arizona's consumer protection lawsuit against Google show that the company's employees admitted Google's location privacy settings were "confusing" and potentially misleading. The suit, brought by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, alleges that Google violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act by collecting and storing location data on mobile devices—even after users believed they had turned off location tracking. A newly-unsealed version of Arizona's complaint reveals that Google employees knew the interface was "[d]efinitely confusing from a user point of view[.]" One employee wrote that Google's interface "feels like it is designed to make things possible, yet difficult enough that people won't figure it out." In July, twenty-seven members of EPIC's advisory board signed a letter urging the court to reject Google's efforts to delay a decision on unsealing the documents. In 2018, EPIC told to the Federal Trade Commission that Google's surreptitious tracking of user location data violated the FTC's 2011 Google consent order. The 2011 settlement with Google followed a detailed complaint brought by EPIC and a coalition of consumer organizations.

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