Tech giant Google has been fined $60 million in an Australian federal court for making misleading representations to consumers about the collection and use of personal location data on their Android phones.
The fine comes as a result of legal action by consumer watchdog the ACCC, which took Google to court in 2019 over its use of location data collected by Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018, the world’s first such enforcement action.
In April last year, the court found in a landmark legal ruling that Google and its subsidiary Google Australia had misled consumers over the use of personal location data in breach of Australian consumer law.
The case revolved around a composition entitled “Local History”.
Judge Tom Towley looked at how consumers interact with Google in controlling their Google account settings and location data, looked at three possible scenarios, and concluded that Google’s behavior would not mislead all reasonable users in the specified classes.
“Google’s conduct has misled or is likely to mislead some reasonable users in certain areas. He said that the number or extent of wrongful or wrongful reasonable users is immaterial to establish a contrary case.
The court wrongly held that when consumers create a new Google Account during the setup process for their Android device, the Google ‘Location History’ setting is the only Google Account setting that affects whether Google can collect, retain or use personally identifiable information. About their environment.
Indeed, another Google account setting, ‘Web & App Activity’, also allows Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it’s turned on, and that setting is on by default.
ACCC chairwoman Gina Cass-Gottlieb said the fine would send a strong message to digital platforms and other businesses not to mislead consumers about how their data is being collected and used.
“Google, one of the world’s largest companies, is able to retain location data collected through the ‘web and app activity’ setting, and that saved data allows Google to target ads to certain consumers, even if those users have their ‘Location History’ setting turned off,” she said.
“Personal location information is sensitive and important to some consumers, and some users who saw the representations may have made different choices about the collection, storage and use of their location data if the misleading representations had not been made by Google.”
The ACCC estimated that around 1.3 million Google accounts in Australia may have viewed the screenshot found in court to have breached Australian consumer law.
Google took remedial steps in 2018 to address the issue.
Cass-Gottlieb said the case was the first public enforcement outcome following an inquiry into the ACCC’s digital platform.
The ACCC and Google jointly submitted to the court that a $60 million fine was appropriate and that a separate fine against Google Australia Pty Ltd was unnecessary.
The court ordered Google to commit to complying with the policies and to train certain employees about Australian consumer law, as well as to pay a contribution to the ACCC’s costs.