DES MOINES – Attorney General Tom Miller announced today that Iowa, along with 39 other attorneys general, has reached a $391.5 million multistate settlement with Google over its location tracking practices relating to Google Account settings. This is the largest multistate attorney general privacy settlement in the history of the U.S. Iowa will receive $6.17 million from the settlement.
“When consumers make the decision to not share location data on their devices, they should be able to trust that a company will no longer track their every move,” Miller said. “That wasn’t the case when it comes to Google’s tracking practices. This settlement makes it clear that companies must be transparent in how they track customers and abide by state and federal privacy laws.”
Location data is a key part of Google’s digital advertising business. Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects to build detailed user profiles and target ads on behalf of its advertising customers. Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects. Even a limited amount of location data can expose a person’s identity and routines and can be used to infer personal details.
The attorneys general opened the Google investigation following a 2018 Associated Press article that revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.” The article focused on two Google account settings: Location History and Web & App Activity. Location History is “off” unless a user turns on the setting, but Web & App Activity, a separate account setting, is automatically “on” when users set up a Google account, including for all Android phone users.
As detailed in the settlement, the attorneys general found that Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location tracking practices since at least 2014. Specifically, Google caused users to be confused about the scope of the Location History setting, the fact that the Web & App Activity setting existed and also collected location information, and the extent to which consumers who use Google products and services could limit Google’s location tracking by adjusting their account and device settings.
The settlement requires Google to be more transparent with consumers about its practices. Google must:
- Show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off.”
- Make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden); and
- Give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage.
The settlement also limits Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google account controls to be more user-friendly.
Iowa is joined in the final settlement by Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.