Google Sued over 'Accidental' Location Tracking

John Lister's picture

Internal Google documents show the company's own staff believe its privacy settings are confusing. The documents became public in a court case about unexpected location tracking.

The state of Arizona is suing Google after an investigation into claims it was storing location data about mobile users even though they had turned off the Location History setting.

The problem is that Google actually tracked location in multiple ways - each with their own settings. For example, there's a difference between Location History (a user feature that lets you check back through Google Maps to see where you've been on a particular date) and Location Services (a device feature that provides data to multiple apps.)

Google told the Associated Press in 2018 that it provided "clear descriptions" of the location settings and that users had "robust controls."


Lawsuit Alleges Deception

The lawsuit accused Google of misleading users through deceptive settings options.

It also explicitly accused Google of sharing location data with apps that users have forbidden from using location data; collecting location data when "Device Location" is switched off; and still serving personalized ads based on user location when the user has turned off personalization. (Source:

Several court documents in the Arizona case have just been made public after initially being sealed, while the lawsuit itself has had some previously redacted content revealed. It includes multiple internal Google emails and chat transcripts where employees agreed with the original complaints.

Among the most damning comments are from one employee stating that Google's interface "feels like it is designed to make things possible, yet difficult enough that people won't figure it out."

Engineer Baffled about GPS Location Tracking

Meanwhile, a software engineer who described themselves as "privacy focused" said it was a bad sign that they were confused by the settings, noting "I **thought** I had location tracking turned off on my phone."

Google says the inclusion of the comments in the lawsuit is a case of cherry-picking. It also argues that it's actually a good sign because it shows the staff were trying to identify and reduce confusion. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you understand the location settings on Google's mobile apps and services? Have you tried to switch off location tracking? Is it fair to use internal communications such as this as evidence in the case?

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