The Federal Court of Australia has ruled that Google had misled consumers about personal location data it collected and used between 2017 to 2018.
Google was found to have misrepresented that the ‘Location History’ setting, when a consumer creates a new Google account, was the only setting that affected whether the company collected, kept or used personally identifiable data about their location.
Another setting called ‘Web & App Activity’ also enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on, and that setting was turned on by default.
In what it called a world-first enforcement action, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission sued Google in July 2020 for allegedly failing to properly inform customers and not gaining their explicit informed consent when the company changed its methods of collecting personal data in 2016.
The ACCC took aim specifically at personal location data collected through Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018.
“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.
“Today’s decision is an important step to make sure digital platforms are upfront with consumers about what is happening with their data and what they can do to protect it.”
The court also said that customers that accessed the ‘Web & App Activity’ setting were not notified that the setting was relevant to the collection of personal location data.
“We are extremely pleased with the outcome in this world-first case. Between January 2017 and December 2018, consumers were led to believe that ‘Location History’ was the only account setting that affected the collection of their personal location data, when that was simply not true,” Sims said.
“Companies that collect information must explain their settings clearly and transparently so consumers are not misled. Consumers should not be kept in the dark when it comes to the collection of their personal location data.”
The ACCC is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, publications orders, and compliance orders, all of which will be determined at a later date.
“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. This will ensure that consumers can make informed choices about whether certain Google settings that personally collect location data should be enabled,” Sims said.