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Google misled consumers over data collection – Australian watchdog

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Canberra, Australia: A judge found on Friday that Google had violated Australian law by misleading users about personal location data collected through Android mobile devices.

The Federal Court’s ruling is a partial victory for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Australian fair trade supervisory agency, which has been suing Google for alleged violations of the consumer law since October 2019.

Judge Thomas Thawley found that Google misled users of Android mobile devices regarding personal location data collected between January 2017 and December 2018.

“This is an important victory for consumers, especially anyone concerned about their privacy online, as the court’s decision sends a strong message to Google and others that big businesses must not mislead their customers,” Commission Chair Rod Sims said in a statement.

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome in this world-first case,” he added.

Google is considering an appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court.

“The court rejected many of the ACCC’s broad claims,” a Google statement said.

“We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal,” Google added.

The judge ruled that when users create a new Google account during the initial setup of their Android device, Google misrepresented that the “location history” setting is the only Google account setting that affects Google’s collection, retention, or use of personally identifiable data regarding their location. .

However, another Google account setting called “Web and Application Activity” also allows Google to collect, store, and use personally identifiable location data when it is turned on, and this setting is turned on by default.

The judge also found that when users later visited the “Location History” setting on their Android device at the same time to turn it off, they were also misled because Google did not notify them by logging out of “Network and App Activity History” After enabling this setting, Google will continue to collect, store and use its personally identifiable information.

Similarly, between March 2017 and November 29, 2018, when users subsequently accessed the “Network and Application Activity Record” setting on their Android device, Google did not inform them that the setting was related to the collection of personal location data , So it was misled.

Google said that the digital platform provides “robust control over location data and is always looking for more features.”

The commission is seeking court orders and financial penalties against Google to be determined later.

The Australia Institute Center for Responsible Technology, a Canberra-based think tank, said the case “highlights the complexity of Big Tech terms and conditions.”

“The reality is most people have little to no idea on how much of their data is being used by Google and online platforms,” the Center’s Director Peter Lewis said in a statement.

Lewis said reading most terms and conditions takes an average of 74 minutes and requires a university education, according to the institute’s research, and more comprehensive consumer data protection was needed. 

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