Amid increasing allegations of Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) Google tracking users' location without their consent, the world’s leading internet company has Arizona authorities looking into its practices. The probe has been initiated against the company by Attorney General Mark Brnovich and confirmed by a person aware of the development, according to the Washington Post (WP).
Google Breaching User’s Privacy?
The matter relates to last month’s investigation by the Associated Press which revealed that Google’s Android operating system used in smartphones continued to track and store users' location data even if users turned off location history in their device’s privacy settings. Google apps and services allegedly store time and geo-location data, which helps the internet giant to show location-specific, targeted ads to the user. AP conducted the inquiry with assistance from researchers at Princeton University. (See also, Oracle Accuses Google of Secretly Tracking Users.)
The newspaper further reports that last month the attorney general made a public filing that indicated the office had retained an outside law firm to help with a probe against an unnamed technology firm on matters of “storage of consumer location data, tracking of consumer location, and other consumer tracking through . . . smartphone operating systems, even when consumers turn off 'location services' and take other steps to stop such tracking.” The development emerged around a week after AP’s report on Google.
Brnovich also made headlines in March this year when he publicly criticized the leading social media company Facebook Inc. (FB) for its Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal that resulted in improper use of around 87 million Facebook users’ data.
Arizona state laws provisions for the protection of consumers from business practices of a deceptive nature. The case against Google for tracking user movements without their consent may qualify as a deceptive business practice. The state can also demand penalties ranging “up to $10,000 per violation, meaning Google's location privacy practices could result in a sky-high fine for the company,” WP further adds.
The investigation in Arizona may prompt other states and federal governments to initiate similar proceedings against the leading search engine company, and may result in hefty fines. Google has already faced a penalty imposed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2011 for using deceptive tactics and violating its own privacy commitments made to the consumers when it launched its social network, Google Buzz, in 2010. As a part of the settlement with FTC, the company had then agreed to implement a comprehensive privacy program to protect consumer data going forward.
Google continues to maintain that it provides necessary tools for users to delete their information. In a statement, a Google spokesperson told WP, “There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people's experience, including: location history, web and app activity, and through device-level location services. People can delete their location history or web and app activity anytime at myaccount.google.com." (See also, Google Not Facebook Collects More Data On Users.)