ACCC sues Google, claiming it misled Android users

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Australian consumer watchdog the ACCC is suing Google, accusing it of misleading Android users about data it collected.

In what may be the first of a number of ACCC proceedings against digital giants, it alleges Google LLC and Google Australia Pty Ltd "engaged in misleading conduct and made false or misleading representations to consumers about the personal location data Google collects, keeps and uses".

The Federal Court writ claims that Google breached Australian Consumer Law when "from at least January 2017" by making on-screen representations on Android phones and tablets that it alleges misled consumers about the location data Google collected or used when certain Google Account settings were enabled or disabled.

"The representations were made to consumers setting up a Google Account on their Android mobile phones and tablets, and to consumers who later accessed their Google Account settings through their Android mobile phones and tablets.

"We are taking court action against Google because we allege that as a result of these on-screen representations, Google has collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers' location without them making an informed choice," ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

The ACCC says its case regarding the collection of location data focuses on two Google Account settings: one labelled 'Location History'; and another labelled 'Web & App Activity'.

The ACCC alleges that from January 2017 until late 2018, it was misleading for Google to not properly disclose to consumers that both settings had to be switched off if consumers didn't want Google to collect, keep and use their location data.

Instead, the ACCC alleges that when consumers set up a Google Account on their Android phone or tablet, consumers would have incorrectly believed, based on Google's conduct, that 'Location History' was the only Google Account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept or used data about their location.

Similarly, if consumers later accessed their Google Account settings on their Android device, Google did not inform them that by leaving 'Web & App Activity' switched on, Google would continue to collect location data.

"Our case is that consumers would have understood as a result of this conduct that by switching off their 'Location History' setting, Google would stop collecting their location data, plain and simple," Sims said.

"We allege that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting also had to be switched off."

The ACCC also alleges that from around mid-2018 until late 2018, Google represented to consumers that the only way they could prevent Google from collecting, keeping and using their location data was to stop using certain Google services, including Google Search and Google Maps. However, this could be achieved by switching off both 'Location History' and 'Web & App Activity'.

Another allegation is that Google's on-screen statements explaining how location data would be used when customers accessed their 'Location History' and 'Web & App Activity' settings were misleading.

The ACCC says it is seeking penalties, declarations and orders requiring the publication of corrective notices and the establishment of a compliance programme.

Google has said it will defend itself against the claims.

• Detail on the proceedings is at the ACCC website

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