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Google sued by Washington D.C., 3 states, over alleged deceptive location data practices

The suit alleges that Google made extensive use of dark patterns, among other things.


Andrew Wyrich


Posted on Jan 24, 2022   Updated on Jan 31, 2022, 10:33 am CST

Attorneys general from Washington D.C., Texas, Indiana, and Washington are suing Google, alleging that the tech giant “deceived consumers” about how their location data was “tracked and used.”

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, claims that since 2014 Google mislead consumers to believe that they were in control of what kind of information Google collected and retained regarding their location.

However, the suit alleges, “consumers who use Google products cannot prevent Google from collecting, storing, and profiting from their location.” That tracking and collection of data is in violation of Washington D.C.’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, the suit alleges.

It also alleges that Google “makes extensive use of dark patterns,” deceptive tactics intended to trick or obfuscate users, to “cause users to provide more and more location data (inadvertently or out of frustration).”

“My office is suing Google for deceiving users and invading their privacy. Google claims that changing your device and account settings protects your data. The truth is, since 2014, Google has systematically surveilled users no matter what settings they choose,” Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine wrote in a series of tweets on Monday morning. “We’re leading a bipartisan group of AGs from Texas, Indiana, & Washington, each suing in state court to hold Google accountable. We’re seeking to stop Google’s illegal use of ‘dark patterns’ & claw back profits made from location data.”

In the suit, they note that Washington D.C. conducted an investigation after an Associated Press report in 2018 found that even when Google users turned off their “location history” setting, the tech giant still collected information about users.

Following that report, the Washington D.C. attorney general’s office investigated Google’s location tracking practices. The investigation, according to the suit, found that “Google also offers other settings that purport to give consumers control over the location data Google collects and uses” but the company used “misleading, ambiguous, and incomplete descriptions of these settings” making it almost a “guarantee that consumers will not understand when their location is collected and retained by Google or for what purposes.”

In a statement to the Daily Dot, Google spokesperson José Castañeda said the tech giant will “vigorously defend ourselves” against the lawsuit.

“The Attorneys General are bringing a case based on inaccurate claims and outdated assertions about our settings. We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We will vigorously defend ourselves and set the record straight,” Castañeda said.

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*First Published: Jan 24, 2022, 10:39 am CST