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Landmark Decision: Federal Court Finds Google Misled Millions of Australians

The Federal Court handed down a landmark ruling today, finding that Google misled millions of Android users with its collection and storage of location data.

The ACCC brought the case, claiming that Google’s fail to disclosure information about the location data they were storing was a breach of Australian consumer law.

Among the breaches was Google’s false claim it would only retain and use location data for the benefit of the user, not its own, and that Google misrepresented the fact it continued to collect such data, even when a user’s location history was set to ‘off’.

“This is an important victory for consumers,” ACCC chief Rod Sims said of the verdict, “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.

“Today’s decision is an important step to make sure digital platforms are up front with consumers about what is happening with their data and what they can do to protect it.”

Federal Court judge Michael Thawley found that, “Google’s conduct would not have misled all reasonable users in the classes identified; but Google’s conduct misled or was likely to mislead some reasonable users within the particular classes identified.

“The number or proportion of reasonable users who were misled, or were likely to have been misled, does not matter for the purposes of establishing contraventions.”

Google disputes the findings and are preparing to appeal.

“The court rejected many of the ACCC’s broad claims,” a spokesperson said. “We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal.

“We provide robust controls for location data and are always looking to do more — for example we recently introduced auto delete options for Location History, making it even easier to control your data.”

The ACCC disagrees, and is looking for penalties, plus clarity for the consumer.

“In addition to penalties,” explains Sims, “we are seeking an order for Google to publish a notice to Australian consumers to better explain Google’s location data settings in the future. This will ensure that consumers can make informed choices about whether certain Google settings that personal collect location data should be enabled.”

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