Google is being taken to court by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which has accused the global tech giant of misleading consumers about its use of their personal location data.
It’s believed to be the first legal action in the world on the issue as tech companies comes under increased scrutiny by the consumer watchdog.
The ACCC’s Federal Court action alleges Google breached Australian Consumer Law from January 2017 until late last year when it made on-screen representations on Android mobile phones and tablets about the location data Google collected or used when certain Google Account settings were enabled or disabled.
The ACCC’s case focuses on two Google Account settings: one labelled ‘Location History’; and another labelled ‘Web & App Activity’, alleging that it was misleading for Google to not properly disclose to users that both settings had to be switched off if they didn’t want Google to collect, keep and use their location data.
The consumer watchdog’s view is that when people set up a Google Account on their Android phone or tablet, they would incorrectly believe that ‘Location History’ was the only Google Account setting that affected whether the company collected, kept or used their location data.
Similarly, if people later accessed their Google Account settings on an Android device, Google did not inform them that by leaving ‘Web & App Activity’ switched on, Google would continue to collect location data.
Google did not disclose that the data may be used by Google for a number of other purposes unrelated to the consumer’s use of Google’s services.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said the representations made by Google did not let consumers make an informed choice about what the organisation considers “highly sensitive and valuable personal information”.
“Our case is that consumers would have understood as a result of this conduct that by switching off their ‘Location History’ setting, Google would stop collecting their location data, plain and simple,” he said.
“We allege that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting also had to be switched off.
“Many consumers make a conscious decision to turn off settings to stop the collection of their location data, but we allege that Google’s conduct may have prevented consumers from making that choice.”
Sims said transparency and inadequate disclosures remain a top priority for the ACCC in the wake of its Digital Platforms Inquiry.
The ACCC is seeking fines, orders for corrective notices and a compliance program.
Google says it will defend the charges.