Google to pay A$60 million for misleading Australians

Google was ordered by Australia’s Federal Court to pay $60 million in penalties for making misleading representations to consumers about the collection and use of their location data on Android phones.

After a long-running court fight with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google will pay the penalties for breaching the country’s consumer laws between January 2017 and December 2018.

According to the Court, Google appeared to mislead its consumers by representing to some Android users that the setting titled “Location History” was the only Google account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept, and used personally identifiable data about their location.

However, the Google account set titled “Web & App Activity” also enabled the company to collect, store, and process personally identifiable location data when turned on. This setting was turned on by default, and some Android users were misled.

1.3 million users were affected

As the ACCC estimates, based on available data, almost 1.3 million accounts in Australia may have been affected by these misleading screens that have breached the Australian Consumer Law. The regulator noted that Google took remedial in 2018. The tech giant said it had settled the matter and made location information easy to manage and understand.

“This significant penalty imposed by the Court today sends a strong message to digital platforms and other businesses, large and small, that they must not mislead consumers about how their data is being collected and used,” ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said. “Google, one of the world’s largest companies, was able to keep the location data collected through the “Web & App Activity” setting, and that retained data could be used by Google to target ads to some consumers, even if those consumers had the “Location History” setting turned off.”

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According to Ms. Cass-Gottlieb, “personal location data is sensitive and important to some consumers, and some of the users who saw the representations may have made different choices about the collection, storage and use of their location data if the misleading representations had not been made by Google.”

Google agreed to pay

Google agreed to pay the penalty, which according to the tech giant, was appropriate, and the Court has also made an order to contribute to the ACCC’s costs. Also, the Court required them to ensure its policies include a commitment to compliance and to train certain staff about Australian Consumer Law.

“Companies need to be transparent about the types of data they are collecting and how the data is collected and may be used so that consumers can make informed decisions about who they share that data with,” Ms. Cass-Gottlieb said.

“This is the first public enforcement outcome arising out of the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry.”

Consumers can access the “Web & App Activity” and “Location History” settings through their Google accounts. Australian consumers can also delete personal data that Google has already collected about them through their account.

George Mavridis is a freelance journalist and writer based in Greece. His work primarily covers tech, innovation, social media, digital communication, and politics. He graduated from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki with a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication. Also, he holds an MA in Media and Communication Studies from the Malmö University of Sweden and an MA in Digital Humanities from the Linnaeus University of Sweden.