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Australia Says Google Misled Users About Use Of Location Data

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Australian competition regulator said the country's Federal Court found that Google and its Australian arm misled users about the collection and use of personal location data. The data was collected through Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018.

This is said to be the world-first enforcement action brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or ACCC. The ACCC launched legal proceedings against Google in 2019. The Court found that Google's conduct was liable to mislead the public.

"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.

A Google reportedly said in a statement, "We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal." It also pointed out that the court rejected many of the ACCC's broad claims.

According to the Court, Google misrepresented that the 'Location History' setting was the only Google Account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept or used personally identifiable data about their location. This was done during the initial set-up process of their Android device when a user created a new Google Account.

However, the user was unaware or misled that another Google Account setting titled 'Web & App Activity' was left on by default, which an unassuming user would not know or check. This setting enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data.

The Court also found that when users accessed their 'Location History' setting to turn it off, Google misled users by not revealing to them that it can still access the data when the 'Web & App Activity' setting is left switched on.

Google also misled users by not informing them that the setting was relevant to the collection of personal location data when users later accessed the 'Web & App Activity' setting on their Android device.

The ACCC noted that companies that collect information must explain their settings clearly and transparently so consumers are not misled. Users should not be kept in the dark when it comes to the collection of their personal location data.

"Today's decision is an important step to make sure digital platforms are up front with consumers about what is happening with their data and what they can do to protect it," Sims added.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, publications orders, and compliance orders from the Court, which is to be determined at a later date.

The ACCC also said it is seeking an order from the Court for Google to publish a notice to Australian consumers to better explain Google's location data settings in the future. This enables users to make informed choices and not be misled.

In July last year, the ACCC filed Federal Court proceedings against Google for allegedly misleading Australian consumers by collecting their personal data without proper consent mainly for targeted advertising. The conduct is alleged to have impacted millions of Australians with Google accounts.

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