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Washington attorney general to sue Google for 'secretly tracking' customer locations

Attorney General Bob Ferguson says the company violated the Consumer Protection Act through "deceptive practices."

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Monday that he plans to sue tech giant Google for allegedly deceiving consumers and secretly tracking their location.

In a release, the AG’s office said Google was deceiving consumers by leading them to believe they “have control over how their location data is collected and used” by the company.

However, the release states that the control is false and there is nothing effectively preventing Google from “collecting, storing and profiting” from consumers’ location data.

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According to Google’s Privacy & Terms page, a consumer’s location can come from numerous places, including an IP address, search history and their device’s location.

The company also provides its service called Google Location Services (or Google Location Accuracy) on most Android devices, which uses GPS as well as additional information like Wi-Fi and other sensors to determine the device’s location.

The company most commonly stores this data in a device’s Location History and in its Web & App Activity, all of which can be disabled, according to Google.

Ferguson’s lawsuit claims that the company told users that if Location History was disabled then their location data would not be stored, failing to mention other places the data would continue to be stored, like in Web & App Activity.

Google also suggests there are other ways location data is saved depending on the types of products and services its customers use.

Ferguson’s lawsuit claims that Android users have an even more difficult time since the company uses other ways to track the device’s location even if a so-called location master switch is turned off.

Additionally, Ferguson said the company designed its products to prompt consumers to turn on Location History for various apps, saying some services need location data to function, which is false.

According to Google, location data is used for more personalized ads and helps advertisers analyze how well a particular ad or campaign does in a particular area.

Ferguson says Google violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by “collecting, storing and using consumers’ location data without their knowledge or consent, or even directly against users’ intent.”

The lawsuit is asking that the court stop the company’s conduct and order Google to pay monetary penalties of up to $7,500 per violation, relinquish profits it made through its “deceptive practices” and give up the data acquired.

KING 5 reached out to Google for a statement but has not yet heard back.

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