Google agreed to a $391.5 million dollar settlement on Monday to end a lawsuit accusing the tech giant of tricking users with location data privacy settings that didn’t actually turn off data collection. The payout, the result of a suit brought by 40 state attorneys general, marks one of the biggest privacy settlements in history. Google also promised to make additional changes to clarify its location tracking practices next year.
“For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy,” said Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon’s attorney general who co-lead the case, in a press release. “They have been crafty and deceptive. Consumers thought they had turned off their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and used that information for advertisers.”
The attorneys’ investigation into Google and subsequent lawsuit came after a 2018 report that found Google’s Location History setting didn’t stop the company’s location tracking, even though the setting promised that “with Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.” Google quickly updated the description of its settings, clarifying that you actually have to turn off a completely different setting called Web & App Activity if you want the company to stop following you around.
Despite waves of legal and media attention, Google’s location settings are still confusing, according to experts in interface design. The fine print makes it clear that you need to change multiple settings if you don’t want Google collecting data about everywhere you go, but you have to read carefully. It remains to be seen how clearly the changes the company promised in the settlement will communicate its data practices.