Google has agreed to a record $391.5 million settlement with 40 states for allegedly misleading consumers over its location tracking practices, a coalition of attorneys general announced Monday.
The attorneys general described it as the largest multi-state privacy settlement in US history.
The coalition, which included attorneys general from New York, Kentucky and Oregon, claimed Google had been misleading users about locating tracking in various ways since 2014. That included confusion around “the scope of the Location History setting” and “the extent to which consumers who use Google products and services could limit Google’s location tracking by adjusting their account and device settings,” according to a release from the office of Pennsylvania attorney general and governor-elect Josh Shapiro.
As part of the settlement, Google is required to be more transparent, including showing additional information whenever a location-related setting is turned on or off, making key location tracking policies clearly visible and giving users more details on the type of location data being collected and its use. Google will also now face limits on its usage and storage of some location information.
“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google spokesperson José Castañeda told CNN Business.
The attorneys general opened an investigation into Google after a 2018 Associated Press report that the company “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.” In a statement at the time, Google said it provides “clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time.”
The search engine faced a similar suit in January when four attorneys general from the District of Columbia, Texas, Indiana and Washington state claimed it had used “dark patterns” and deceptive practices to track users’ physical location even when those users have made efforts to block Google from doing so.
Location data like the kind collected by Google can be used to target advertising and build profiles on internet users. Google and other large tech companies have come under renewed scrutiny for their handling of location data in the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade. After facing pressure from lawmakers over how such data could be used to track abortion seekers, Google said it would start deleting user location history for visits to abortion clinics and fertility clinics, among other destinations.