AZ and Google settle consumer fraud lawsuit for $85 million

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Arizona and Google announced a settlement in a consumer fraud lawsuit on Tuesday, allowing the tech giant to pay $85 million instead of going to court later this month.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed the lawsuit against Google in 2020. The lawsuit was the result of a larger investigation that was triggered by the 2018 report of the Associated press reveal some Google apps store location data without asking, and that deleting the data is a time-consuming process. The AP found that Google Maps, for example, creates a snapshot of where users are every time they open the app, even when location history is turned off.

“When I was elected Attorney General, I promised Arizonans that I would fight for them and hold everyone, including companies like Google, accountable,” Brnovich said in a written statement on the settlement. . “I am proud of this historic settlement which proves that no entity, not even large tech companies, is above the law.”

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The State of Arizona will receive $77.25 million as part of the settlement, while an additional $7.75 million will go to Brnovich’s private attorneys’ office hired to represent the state in the lawsuit.

The settlement also directs the AG to spend $5,000,000 on an “accredited law school” to educate AG staff and judges on consumer protection, privacy and technology issues. The money is also to be spent to create a “bipartisan association” of AGs that will develop programs on consumer protection laws in the area of ​​digital privacy.

The remainder of the $77,250,000 is to be spent or directed by the Arizona Legislature toward education, broadband, or “Internet Privacy Efforts and Purposes.”

“This case is based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson, said in a statement to the Arizona Mirror. We provide simple controls and automatic deletion options for location data, and we always strive to minimize the data we collect. We are pleased to have this issue resolved and will continue to focus on providing useful products to our users. »

Although the case is over, there remain lingering questions about the issues raised in the case, much of which has been redacted and sealed in court documents.

Last year, Google and the AG agreed on a special discovery master, an outside person who would oversee the discovery process and settle any disputes. During the discovery process, the state had 30 hours of witness testimony and more than 200,000 pages of documents produced, according to the court ruling.

The initial lawsuit filed by the Attorney General included 270 exhibits, only a small portion of which has been made public. Some of these documents highlight certain issues such as Google’s own engineers being confused by their privacy settings and how Google’s apps location information shared with other apps.

Some documents that have been released show that Google own engineers were confused through privacy settings.

“I agree with the article”, an anonymous Google employee written in an internal email as well as other exhibits forming part of the Crown’s record. “Disabled location should mean disabled location; not except for this or that.

During the trial, the AG issued a new version of previous complaint with sections that were previously redacted now visible.

For example, a previously redacted paragraph from the complaint revealed that the attorney general’s office found that Google employees admitted that the company’s location history and web application activity disclosure policies were “misleading”.

The documents show that employees were working behind the scenes after the AP story to try to change the user interface to make it easier for Google users to turn off location sharing. However, an unnamed employee expressed dismay at thinking his location tracking had been turned off, only to find that was not the case.

“Speaking as a user, WTF? Specifically, I **thought** location tracking was disabled on my phone,” the anonymous software engineer said in published chat logs. “So our post about this is enough to confuse a privacy specialist (Google software engineer). It’s not good.”

Documents also showed that Google’s privacy policy was designed to allow apps that had location tracking disabled to use location tracking information from another Google app on which location tracking was disabled. location was enabled.

“I understand that nothing currently prevents (sic) a Google product (A) from using the location recorded by another Google product (B) if [REDACTED] approves use A

Two years later, more documents would be published by the AG to reveal a Google tool called “IPGeo” which, according to a 2009 presentation obtained by the Attorney General, is designed to “predict users’ locations from their IP addresses by improving ways to mine the data available, and to provide this knowledge to all Google products.”

The Attorney General’s office also found a privacy notice attached to the presentation of the tool.

“You have no idea how incredibly confidential this one is,” the notice reads. “My my, it’s confidential. I am not joking. Imagine an article titled “Google knows where you live because it spies on you” in the NYT. You have been warned.”

That’s not the only lawsuit the tech company has recently settled. In Illinois, Google has settled with residents to the tune of $100 million for violating the state’s biometric privacy law.

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