Google was ordered to pay 60 million Australian dollars (U.S. $42 million) to resolve charges levied by Australia’s competition regulator it misled its Australian customers about how to opt out from the collection of their personal location data.
A federal court in Australia ordered Google to pay the penalties “for making misleading representations to consumers about the collection and use of their personal location data on Android phones between January 2017 and December 2018,” according to a press release Friday from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The ACCC filed a lawsuit in 2019 accusing Google and its subsidiary, Google Australia, of violating Australian Consumer Law by not clearly informing users two settings in different locations needed to be turned off in order to properly nullify the company’s collection of location data. Google Australia was not fined separately.
About 1.3 million Google users in Australia were led to believe by opting out of allowing Google to collect location data in a setting called “Location History” they had stopped the company from collecting their location data, the ACCC said. However, Google collected the same data in another setting called “Web & App Activity” that was turned on by default.
“This significant penalty imposed by the court today sends a strong message to digital platforms and other businesses, large and small, that they must not mislead consumers about how their data is being collected and used,” ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said in the press release.
Google addressed the problem by December 2018, the ACCC said, preventing Australian users from viewing the misleading screens regarding the opting out of location data collection. The court ruling also ordered Google to “ensure its policies include a commitment to compliance and to train certain staff about Australian Consumer Law, as well as to pay a contribution to the ACCC’s costs.”
“Companies need to be transparent about the types of data that they are collecting and how the data is collected and may be used so that consumers can make informed decisions about who they share that data with,” Cass-Gottlieb said.
The ACCC said the case marked the first public enforcement from its digital platforms inquiry.
A Google spokesperson said the company agreed to settle the matter.
“We’ve invested heavily in making location information simple to manage and easy to understand, with industry-first tools like auto-delete controls, while significantly minimizing the amount of data stored,” the spokesman said in an email. “As we’ve demonstrated, we’re committed to making ongoing updates that give users control and transparency while providing the most helpful products possible.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 16 with Google’s response.