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US states, DC sue Google for invading user privacy

WASHINGTON (AP) – The District of Columbia (DC) and three states are suing Google for allegedly deceiving consumers and invading their privacy by making it nearly impossible for them to stop their location from being tracked.

In the lawsuit filed on Monday in a District of Columbia court, DC Attorney General Karl Racine alleged Google has “systematically” deceived consumers about how their locations are tracked and used.

He also said the Internet search giant has misled users into believing they can control the information the company collects about them.

“In reality, consumers who use Google products cannot prevent Google from collecting, storing and profiting from their location,” the lawsuit said. Google has “an unprecedented ability to monitor consumers’ daily lives”.

Google makes it impossible for users to opt out of having their sensitive and valuable location data tracked, the suit alleges.

The attorneys general of Texas, Indiana and Washington state filed similar lawsuits in their state courts on Monday.

A Google building at their campus in Mountain View. PHOTO: AP

“Google’s business model relies on constant surveillance of its users,” Racine’s office said in a news release. The DC suit asserts that Google has “a powerful financial incentive to obscure the details” of its location-data collection and to make it difficult for consumers to opt out.

It said location data is a key part of its digital advertising business that generated USD150 billion in revenue for Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc in 2020.

The company, based in Mountain View, California, is disputing the claims.

“The attorneys general are bringing a case based on inaccurate claims and outdated assertions about our settings,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement.
“We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for
location data.”

The company will defend itself and “set the record straight”, Castaneda said.

Google said that in recent years it has made several improvements to make location data easy to manage and understand, and has minimised the amount of data stored.

The lawsuits are the latest in a raft of legal salvos against the tech giant, whose search engine accounts for an estimated 90 per cent of web searches worldwide.

In December 2020, 10 states led by Texas filed a federal suit against Google accusing it of “anticompetitive conduct” in the online advertising industry, including a deal to manipulate sales with rival Facebook.