Google Accused of Hiding Tracking Settings

John Lister's picture

Internal Google documents suggest the company intentionally made it harder for users to stop it accessing their location data. The documents have become public through a lawsuit that claims Google broke data consent rules.

The state of Arizona is suing over the way Google handles location tracking. Officials say that even when users switched off location tracking for specific apps, Google continued tracking in the background. It only stopped when users switched off a tracking setting for the entire Android system.

That's led to the lawsuit, based on the logic that Google made profits from selling targeted advertising based on the location data. Arizona's attorney general says that means it unlawfully made money through deceptive practices.

Google Worried Settings Menu Too Clear

As part of the lawsuit, lawyers examined internal Google documents. They had been redacted in court records to protect company confidentiality but now a judge has agreed some sections be unredacted following a request by media groups.

The newly-revealed sections certainly don't look good for Google. The most striking is an admission that when Google tested changes to make it easier to find privacy settings in Android, users were more likely to limit data collection.

While that might seem an obvious outcome, the documents suggest Google saw this as a "problem" and intentionally made the settings harder to find.

Location Manager Baffled

The documents also include internal messages from Google staff. One complained that they were unable to see their location on an Android phone without sharing the details with Google. Another asked "So there is no way to give a third party app your location and not Google."

It also appears from the documents that Google collects location data from third-party apps and even WiFi connections, in both cases making it difficult or impossible to use the features without sharing location with Google.

Perhaps most embarrassingly, the documents suggest the Google product manager responsible for location services didn't understand the interaction between the various privacy settings in Android, for example on individual apps and across Android as a whole.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you use an Android device? Do you think you understand how to control what location data you share with Google? Is location sharing a fair price to pay for apps which use location?

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