Vermont To Receive $4 Million Settlement with Google Over Location Tracking Practices

Attorney General Susanne Young announced that Vermont will receive $4 million from a multistate settlement with Google over its location tracking practices related to Google Account settings. The settlement also requires Google to be more transparent with consumers about its practices, including giving users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used. The multistate settlement announced November 14 was negotiated by a coalition of 40 attorneys general and totals $391.5 million. It is the largest multistate privacy settlement negotiated by attorneys general in history.

“Vermonters deserve to make informed decisions about how their location data is being tracked,” said Attorney General Young. “This settlement highlights the importance of protecting consumer privacy and demonstrates that the Attorney General’s Office will continue to hold companies accountable for disregarding the privacy concerns of Vermonters and violating the law.”

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 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.

A copy of the settlement is available here.

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