Google misled consumers finds Federal Court

The Federal Court of Australia has become the first globally to rule that Google misled users about personal location data collected through Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018.

The court found that when consumers created a new Google Account during the initial set-up process of their Android device, Google misrepresented that the ‘Location History’ setting was the only Google Account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept or used personally identifiable data about their location.

When, in fact, another Google Account setting titled ‘Web & App Activity’ also enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on, and that setting was turned on by default.

The discovery of the setting was uncovered by business publication Quartz following an investigation.

“This is an important victory for consumers, especially anyone concerned about their privacy online, as the court’s decision sends a strong message to Google and others that big businesses must not mislead their customers,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims said.

“Today’s decision is an important step to make sure digital platforms are up front with consumers about what is happening with their data and what they can do to protect it.”

The ACCC initiated proceedings against Google in late 2019 for a number of representations published by Google to Australian consumers between January 2017 and December 2018 which it alleged were false or misleading, and that Google engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct, in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law, which the Federal Court has now upheld. The case does not allege any breach of Australia’s Privacy Act.

Google may yet appeal the ruling, with a spokesperson stating: “We disagree with the remaining findings and are currently reviewing our options, including a possible appeal.”

They added that Google provides “robust controls” for location data, and are “always looking to do more”. A recent example of this was the introduction of an auto delete option for ‘Location History’.

The court however, dismissed the ACCC’s allegations about certain statements Google made about the methods by which consumers could prevent Google from collecting and using their location data, and the purposes for which personal location data was being used by Google.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, publications orders, and compliance orders. These will be determined at a later date.


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