Google Sued For ‘Misleading’ Conduct Surrounding Consumer Data



The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is taking tech-giant Google to court over what it labels ‘misleading’ customers about the use of their personal data.


The ACCC announced the move Tuesday, lodging documents to the Federal Court, stating that Google “mislead consumers when it made on-screen representations about the location data it collected, and in particular about continuing to collect and use personal data against consumers’ wishes,” according to the ABC’s Stephen Letts.



"Google has collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers’ location without them making an informed choice.” Rod Sims, ACCC Chair



Rod Sims, Chair of the ACCC said that “we are taking court action against Google because we allege that as a result of these on-screen representations Google has collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers’ location without them making an informed choice.”


The ACCC’s case is said to be focussed on protecting the rights of consumers with a Google account who have accessed their account settings on their Android devices. According to Stephen Letts, “Google’s on-screen advice meant consumers were unaware two account settings - one labeled Location History and another labeled Web & App Activity - had to be switched off to prevent personal data from being collected.”


Prosecutors allege that between January 2017 and the conclusion of 2018, Google was misleading consumers as it failed to disclose which settings needed to be switched off to ensure their location and personal data wasn’t being accessed. The ACCC is arguing that a number of privacy-savvy consumers were misled by the technology company about the necessary steps.



“We allege that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting also had to be switched off,” he said.



“Many consumers make a conscious decision to turn off settings to stop the collection of their location data, but we allege that Google’s conduct may have prevented consumers from making that choice,” Sims continued to explain. “Our case is that consumers would have understood as a result of this conduct that by switching off their Location History setting, Google would stop collecting their location data, plain and simple.”



“We consider that because of Google’s failure to disclose this use of data, consumers were and still are deprived of the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether to share their personal location data." Rod Sims.



“We allege that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting also had to be switched off,” he added. “We consider that because of Google’s failure to disclose this use of data, consumers were and still are deprived of the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether to share their personal location data with Google.”


“Transparency and inadequate disclosure issues involving digital platforms and consumer data were a major focus of our Digital Platforms Inquiry, and remain one of the ACCC’s top priorities,” he said.


The ACCC is seeking penalties and orders requiring corrective notices to be issued by Google, as well as the formation of a compliance program to ensure the company’s policies in the future are in-line with Australian consumer law.


A spokesperson from Google has said that the company was "currently reviewing the details of these allegations," reiterating that Google would “continue to engage with the ACCC and intend to defend this matter.”

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