Google has been slapped with a $60 million fine for some misleading consumers about the collection and use of their personal location data on Android phones between January 2017 and December 2018.
The consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), took Google to the Federal Court last year, saying the issue may have affected about 1.3 million Australian customers.
The Federal Court found Google represented to some Android users that the setting titled Location History was the only account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept and used personally identifiable data about their location.
But there was another account setting, titled Web & App Activity, which also enabled Google to collect personal information, which was turned on by default.
Google fixed the issue by December 2018.
‘Used by Google to target ads to some consumers’
The ACCC and the overseas arm of Google jointly agreed on the penalty of $60 million.
ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said the hefty penalty was appropriate for the compromise to such sensitive information.
“[It] 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,” Ms 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.”
The Federal Court also ordered Google to adjust its policies to ensure a commitment to compliance, and to give training to staff about Australian Consumer law.
Google will also have to pay some of the ACCC’s costs.
Google Australia has been spared a separate penalty because it had no role in preparing the messages about location data, which the court found was a breach of the law.
Google responds to fine
In a statement, Google said it had fixed the problem before the Federal Court action was brought and agreed to settle the matter with the ACCC.
It said it had also overhauled the way its location data was managed.
“We’ve invested heavily in making location information simple to manage and easy to understand with industry-first tools like auto-delete controls, while significantly minimising the amount of data stored,” a spokesman said.
“As we’ve demonstrated, we’re committed to making ongoing updates that give users control and transparency, while providing the most helpful products possible.”
Google said the court acknowledged the issue only affected a narrow group of users and not the public at large.
And the internet giant said it now had a policy that apps must get explicit approval to request background location, or else they would be removed from the Play Store.