Virginia receiving $10.7 million from Google location tracking settlement

Watchful Eye

Virginia will receive over $10.7 million from a $391.5 million Google settlement that stems from the company’s misleading location tracking practices.

An announcement from Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office explained that he and 39 other attorneys general opened an investigation into Google after a 2018 Associated Press article revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.”

That article explained that with regard to Google’s location tracking, there were two account settings users should have been focused on, but many people were under the impression that there was only one--Location History.

The Location History setting was automatically off unless a user turned it on.

However, Google’s Web & App Activity setting was automatically on when users set up a Google account. According to Miyares’ announcement, that included “all Android phone users.”

That Web & App Activity setting allowed Google to collect location information, which is something many people thought they were avoiding by having the Location History turned off.

Google was then using that location data to build “detailed” user profiles, which it uses as a “key part” of its digital advertising business.

“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,” noted the announcement from Virginia’s AG.

The attorneys general investigation concluded that Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about 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, Miyares’ announcement stated.

This $391 million Google settlement is the largest multistate attorney general privacy settlement in the history of the United States.

And, in addition to requiring Google to pay up, the settlement imposed other requirements, including that the company 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.

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