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Google to pay Arizona $85M in privacy suit that alleged 'deceptive' location tracking

PHOENIX — Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has entered an $85 million settlement with Google LLC for allegedly tracking the users' location with "deceptive and unfair" practices to sell advertisements, his office announced Tuesday.

Brnovich started investigating Google after a 2018 Associated Press article said the company was misleading consumers on how they were tracking and using their location data, according to a news release.

In May 2020, Brnovich sued Google for allegedly tracking people's location with deceptive practices and coercive design tactics that were built into its software – even if they were told to stop. The suit accused the tech giant of taking users' location to amplify ad revenue, invading user privacy and not giving users a clear way to cancel location tracking.

Even when users turned off their location history in settings, Google allegedly collected their location without their consent through other settings like the Web & App Activity to sell ads, according to the release. Google generates most of its profit by selling ads that are shown to its users.

"The tactics Google deploys to surveil its users' locations – including users in Arizona – include willfully deceptive and unfair acts and practices within the meaning of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act," read the complaint.

This was one of the biggest consumer fraud lawsuits in the history of Arizona, according to the release, and the settlement is the largest amount per capita that Google has paid in a lawsuit about privacy and consumer fraud like this one.

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“I am proud of this historic settlement that proves no entity, not even big tech companies, is above the law,” Brnovich said in the release.

Most of the money from the settlement will be directed to the general fund and can be used after legislative appropriation. The release states $5 million will be directed toward attorney general education programs.

In response, Google spokesman José Castañeda stated that, "This case is based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago."

"We provide straightforward controls and auto delete options for location data, and are always working to minimize the data we collect," Castañeda continued. "We are pleased to have this matter resolved and will continue to focus our attention on providing useful products for our users.”

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A Maricopa County Superior Court judge in January allowed for the state to continue the suit, but denied the AG's key argument that Arizona consumer fraud laws were violated by the sale or lease of merchandise linked to third-party advertising sales.

The judge's move was described as "a significant legal ruling" in a Google company blog post.

"We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data," Castañeda said after the suit was filed.

Arizona was represented by Phoenix-based law firm Gallagher & Kennedy.

Viktor Benjamin, information systems assistant professor at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business, said Google's primary source of revenue comes from ads. Google may be willing to settle with the state to avoid incurring more costs through a court decision and legal precedence not in their favor, Benjamin offered.

"They may be freeing themselves up from liabilities or legal issues in the future by just accepting the costs now of doing these payouts," Benjamin said.

He added the amount won in the settlement is "just a road bump" for Google and other tech companies.

Follow Angela Cordoba Perez on Twitter @AngelaCordobaP.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Google to pay Arizona $85M settlement in user location privacy lawsuit