NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - The District of Columbia and three states sued Google on Monday (Jan 24), claiming that the tech giant deceived consumers to gain access to their location data.
In separate lawsuits, the attorneys general of D.C., Texas, Washington and Indiana claimed that Google misled users of Android phones and of tools like Google Maps and its search engine by continuing to track location information of users who had changed the privacy setting to prevent the data collection.
Mr Karl A. Racine, attorney general for the District of Columbia, led the complaints following a three-year investigation, which was initiated after a report by The Associated Press showed the company recorded users' movements even when told not to. He said investigators found that since at least 2014, Google made misleading and conflicting claims to consumers about privacy protections offered via its account settings.
The D.C. lawsuit alleged that even when a user had changed the settings in their account or device to stop location tracking, Google still collected and stored that information through Google services, Wi-Fi data and marketing partners. The search giant also misled and pressured users to enable more location tracking, for example by claiming products would not function properly if the location services setting was disabled when in fact it was not needed to use the app, according to the suit.
"Google falsely led consumers to believe that changing their account and device settings would allow customers to protect their privacy and control what personal data the company could access," Mr Racine said in a statement.
"The truth is that contrary to Google's representations it continues to systematically surveil customers and profit from customer data."
Google said the allegations brought by the attorneys general were false and that the company had put in place many changes to its privacy policies to help users protect their location data.
"The attorneys general are bringing a case based on inaccurate claims and outdated assertions about our settings," said Mr Jose Castaneda, a spokesman for Google. "We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We will vigorously defend ourselves and set the record straight."
Google is also fighting an antitrust lawsuit led by Texas in which states have accused the company of obtaining and abusing a monopoly over the systems that allow publishers to auction off ad space to marketers. Last Friday, Google asked a federal court to dismiss the lawsuit.
The lawsuits add to a mounting offensive by regulators to curtail the power and business practices of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. State and federal regulators have filed dozens of anti-trust, consumer protection, privacy and trade lawsuits in an attempt to curb the business models or break up the companies. A Senate committee last week advanced potentially landmark anti-trust legislation that tries to weaken the dominance of the Internet giants.
The attorneys general of D.C., Texas, Washington and Indiana said their suits, filed under local consumer protection laws, sought to fine Google and to stop its practice of location-data collection for users who have opted out. The attorneys general also have joined on other anti-trust lawsuits against Google for allegedly harming competition in search and advertising technology.
"Google has prioritised profits over people," the Indiana attorney general Todd Rokita said. "It has prioritised financial earnings over following the law."