Google Accused of Tracking Phone Users Regardless of Privacy Settings

Michael Bennett
August 21, 2018 - 12 Views

Google is being accused in a lawsuit of illegally tracking movements of millions of Android and iPhone even when they activate privacy settings to prevent tracking.

The complaint filed last week states that Google provides false assurances that people will not be tracked if they turn off the Location History feature on their smartphones to the off position. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, Google violates user privacy by monitoring user movements and and storing where they go.

It is possible that the case could affect millions of people who turned off their location history and still had it recorded by Google. It will probably take several months for the judge on the case to determine if there are enough affected consumers for a class action lawsuit.

The complaint also noted that Google provided false representations that a user can turn off their location history at any time, and stated that with location history off, the places that users go are no longer stored. This is not the case.

The plaintiff in the class action lawsuit is Napoleon Patacsil from San Diego. He is seeking class action status for US users of Android phones and Apple iPhones that turn off the tracking feature. He is seeking an unspecified amount of damages for the company’s alleged intentional violations of privacy laws in California, as well as intrusion into the private affairs of users.

The tracking that is being alleged by the unit of Mountain View, CA based Alphabet Inc was detailed in an August 2018 AP article that was confirmed by researchers at Princeton University.

Google has not responded to requests for comments on the lawsuit. The attorney that is representing Patacsil also has not responded to comment requests.

Patacsil has claimed that Google was illegally tracking him on his Android phone and also on his iPhone, where he downloaded several Google apps. He claims that the principal goal of Google was to monitor phone users and allow 3rd parties to do the same thing.

On Google’s website, the help section states that turning off location history on phones does not affect the other location services that are available in smartphones. It does say that some of your location data can be saved through other services, including maps and search.

In Violation of 2011 FTC Settlement?

Also on August 15, lawyers from the Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote a letter to the FTC that stated that Google’s practices are violating its 2011 settlement with the agency. In this settlement, Google agreed to not misrepresent anything that is related to collecting and using covered information, and the extent to which smartphone users can keep control over the use, collection or disclosure of covered information.

Until the AP story in August 2018, Google’s policy just stated that you can turn off your location history at any time. With the location history off, the places that you go are not stored. But this turned out to not be the case.

Data Collection by Google Hard to Escape: Study

According to a new report, short of throwing your phone into the local creek, there is not a lot you can do to stop Google from collecting information about you.

This is according to a computer scientist at Vanderbilt University who recently led an analysis of the data collection practices by Google. His report, released this month, outlined the many ways that Google collects information about the billions of users of the world’s top search engine, web browser and mobile OS, as well as products such as Gmail and Youtube.

Although this report does not contain any earthshaking news, it does provide a good analysis of the efforts by the company to track users and to glean as much information about them as possible. This comes at a time when increased concern is common about how much information that technology companies collect and what they are doing with it. There also are many concerns about how this information is secured. Google has mostly escaped the regulatory and public backlash that Facebook has gotten in these areas.

In reality, Google actually collects more information about users than Facebook does. It is the biggest digital advertising company on the planet and its many digital services, including Android, Google search, Chrome and Google Play, create a massive amount of data about billions of users.

According to the computer scientist that headed the study, he and his team intercepted data as it was sent from Android devices to servers at Google. They also looked at information that Google gives users in its Google Takeout and My Activity tools, as well as the privacy policies of the company.

The researchers said that almost every move you make online is collected. This includes things such as your morning routine – music you listen to, news preferences and how you drive to work – to errands such as web pages you visit and what you buy. Google is able to identify the interests of its many users with a high degree of accuracy, the researchers claim.

Google can also collect data on you when you are not using your phone. The study found that a dormant Android phone with Chrome running in background sent location data to the servers at Google 340 times in one day. The study found that 11.6 MB of data went from the phone to Google’s servers after a day of Internet use. The data includes the information that people put into the phone when they are searching or looking for directions. But Google also collected much of its data without any input from users.

Michael Bennett

About Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett is Editor-in-Chief of Consumer Protect.com. Since 1999, he's worked across a multitude of areas of consumer protection including defective products, environmental issues, identity theft, predatory lending and more. If you find his articles helpful please share them with your readers.