AG Bob Ferguson settles Google data privacy lawsuit for $40M

May 18, 2023, 1:02 PM

AG neglect case...

The settlement announced Monday is on top of more than $300,000 in penalties levied by a judge against Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office for wrongful withholding of evidence. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that Google will pay a $39.9 million fine in a lawsuit for misleading location tracking.

The internet search engine will also have to implement reforms to increase transparency around its location tracking settings.

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The lawsuit said that users were misled in believing that they could control when Google tracked their location when in actuality, they were not able to effectively prevent Google from collecting, storing, and profiting from their data.

“Google denied Washington consumers the ability to choose whether the company could track their sensitive location data, deceived them about their privacy options, and profited from that conduct,” Ferguson said. “Today’s resolution holds one of the most powerful corporations accountable for its unethical and unlawful tactics.”

The legally binding consent decree filed in King County Superior Court will also require that Google be more transparent with users when they track their data. This includes showing users when they enable location tracking and describing the sources, purposes, and retention of relevant location data.

Ferguson notes that when a user turns off Google’s location settings, there is a second setting under “Web & App Activity” left on by default, which still allows Google apps to store location data. That also applies to Android device users who flip a “master switch” designed to disable location tracking for all apps. Google is said to get around that setting by “instead using other information, such as an IP address, to infer the user’s location,” Ferguson’s office describes.

He goes on to cite a previous report from the Associated Press in 2018, which detailed many of the allegations levied by Ferguson. It outlines how Google can often get around switched-off location settings through user web searches, its Maps app, or simply by taking information from automated weather updates.

Ferguson filed the lawsuit against Google in 2022.

Ferguson investigated Google’s conduct as part of a multistate effort to hold it accountable for its location tracking practices but decided to file the lawsuit independently, separate from the multistate legal action. The Attorney General’s office claims they have doubled the amount that the state received in the settlement than if they have pursued the multi-state settlement.

The Attorney General said that the money would be used to further protect digital privacy in the state.

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This is not the only legal action ongoing between the Attorney General’s office and Google. Ferguson and a bipartisan coalition of 38 attorneys general filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against Google, claiming the company unlawfully monopolizes online display advertising.

The antitrust lawsuit claims Google’s market share for publisher ad servers soared from 60% in 2008 to 90% by 2015. Google keeps 30 cents of every dollar in advertising that passes through the marketplace it now controls.

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AG Bob Ferguson settles Google data privacy lawsuit for $40M