Google accused of illegally tracking Android phone users

Google search
(Image credit: Google)

Google is in a soup. 

It has been sued for allegedly tracking Android users’ location without their consent and even when the location tracking features had been manually disabled.

According to a report in Washington Post, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has filed the lawsuit saying that Google kept location tracking running in the background for certain features, like weather and for web searches using its search engine and Chrome browser, even after the user disabled app-specific location tracking. 

The tracking apparently stopped only after users turned off broader system-level tracking. The complainant alleged that Google stealthily collected the location data for whatever reason it wanted to.

“Though Google claims to have obtained consent to collect and store its users’ data, that consent is based on a misleading user interface, as well as other unfair and deceptive acts and practices,” the lawsuit alleges.

The allegation is Google collected location data to deliver targeted ads to Arizona residents who may not have consented to such tracking in the first place.

The lawsuit also alleges that Google changes its privacy permissions without notifying users and that its WiFi settings are misleading because they must be turned off in two separate places to disable location tracking.

Google’s Android operating system dominates the smart phone market, and its search engine comprises the overwhelming majority of online searches.

Our services are mischaracterized: Google

Brnovich wanted Google to pay back ill-gotten profits from its alleged misdeeds, totaling perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars, the attorney general said. 

As it happens, this is not the first time Google is under attack for such alleged missteps. The company has mostly responded to privacy concerns over the years with ad-hoc measures like making it easier to auto-delete one's location data, and cracking down on offending third-party apps that do so without consent.

But its efforts are mostly viewed with suspicion, and the general refrain among lay people is: Google knows wherever you are, and whatever you do.

Google is cliaming that its services are being mischaracterized. “We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data,” Google spokesman Jose Castaneda was quoted as saying by the news agency AP.  “We look forward to setting the record straight.”

Google and its YouTube subsidiary, as well as the other major tech companies, are facing a number of regulatory and legal issues right now, following antitrust and privacy enforcement in the European Union.