Attorneys general sue Google over location marketing practices

Prosecutors in Washington, D.C., Indiana, Texas and Washington are suing Google for “deceptive and unfair practices” the company uses to obtain consumer location data. It’s a bipartisan lawsuit with both Democratic and Republican attorneys general joining in.

dark patterns. The lawsuit accuses Google of using “dark patterns” (specifically: “repeated alerts, misleading pressure tactics, and dodgy and misleading descriptions of site features and settings”) to deliver more location data. Dark patterns are basically “tricks” a website or app can include as part of its design that make the user do something they might not choose to do otherwise.

Why do we care. Location data is among the most sensitive information that Google collects from consumers. Even a limited amount of this data, collected over time, can reveal a person’s identity and actions. The Site may also be used to infer personal details such as political or religious affiliation, sexual orientation, income, health status, or participation in support groups, as well as major life events, such as marriage, divorce, and the birth of children.

Location data is even more powerful in the hands of Google, a company with an unprecedented ability to monitor consumers’ daily lives because Google’s products are almost ubiquitous in consumers’ pockets, homes, and workplaces—essentially everywhere consumers go. Google’s technologies allow it to analyze massive amounts of location data from billions of people, extracting insights that consumers may not even realize it’s revealed. Google uses this window into consumers’ lives to sell ads that target consumers based on the personal details Google knows about them, including their demographics, habits, and interests.

Google and location history management. Google has an entire page dedicated to this topic, titled Managing Site History. In short, this page tells you how to turn Location History on or off and delete your Location History. Google encourages users to keep their location history turned on because it offers benefits like “customized maps, recommendations based on places you’ve visited, help finding your phone, real-time traffic updates about your commute, and more useful ads.” This is a very important value exchange – but it really has to be highly valuable if the tech giant is going to know where you are.

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