Google Denies Misusing Customers Location Data, Faces $10m Fine
Global tech giant, Google, has denied it mislead Australian customers when it collected their location data.
In a landmark lawsuit, Google claimed instead that users of its Android mobile operating system had ample information about their location settings and an opportunity to change them.
Documents filed to the Federal Courts by Google’s lawyers argued that users could change their location settings at any time, and that Google software prompted users to check they were comfortable with the settings of their account.
‘Google denies it made false or misleading representations or that it engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct,’ lawyers from Corrs Chambers Westgarth said in Google’s filing.
‘The allegations in the concise statement depend upon a limited, and therefore artificial and incorrect, account of the way in which users were provided with information relating to Google’s collection, storage and use of their personal data.
‘Google provided opportunities for users to make informed choices regarding the collection, storage and use of their personal data by providing relevant information in relation to those matters in an accessible way.’
It’s the first time Google has responded to the allegations by the ACCC that it misled consumers about the location data it collected from customers.
The case has the potential to cost the company millions of dollars in fines and force policy changes.
Google also stated users were informed in the company’s terms of service that, by using a Google service, they agreed that ‘Google may collect location data periodically and use this data in an anonymous way to improve location accuracy and location-based services.’
The lawyers representing Google say the Australian arm of the company was not responsible for any data collection and therefore, had no case to answer.
‘Google Australia did not supply the Google services or Android operating system to any consumers, collect or store personal data about users’ locations … at any material time,’ said Corrs Chambers Westgarth in their filing.
The ACCC and its chairman, Rod Sims, claimed last year in a complaint filed to the Federal Court that Google’s menu setting were misleading from January 2017 until late 2018.
Sims’ complaint included an allegation that the company continued to send customers location data to Google even after the location history was turned off.
Google is facing fines of up to $10m or 10 per cent of annual turnover if it’s to have breached Australian consumer law.
‘We alleged, in a sense, everyone was misled because they thought any location history turned off would mean their location history was off,’ Sims said.
‘We want declarations that the past behaviour was inappropriate. We want declarations that the current behaviour should not continue.’
The ACCC declined to comment as the case is still before the court.
‘Geographic information helps us provide useful services when people interact with our products, like locally relevant search results and traffic predictions,’ a Google spokeswoman told The Australian.\
‘People can disable location history and web and app activity, and edit or delete the information, at any time. We recently announced new auto-delete controls for location history and web and app activity, incognito mode and your data in Maps.’
After an ACCC inquiry into the market power of tech giants, the federal government announced in December last year a series of reforms, including a voluntary code of conduct and improved Privacy Act, set to give consumers more control over their data.
A case management hearing has been set for February 3.