Google still accused of stalking users without their knowledge

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Already accused of violating a law on consumer fraud relating to the tracking of geolocation without the consent of users even though the latter had refused, Google is still in turmoil.

When an Android user with GPS enabled

Revealed in an investigation conducted by the Associated Press, the case of location data collection by Google without the knowledge of users of Android terminals rebounds. At the time, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich had already pinned the search giant for consumer fraud in May 2020. According to him, Google’s data collection system violated the Consumer Fraud Act. government consumer fraud). “In 2019, more than 80% of Google’s revenue – $135 billion out of $161 billion – was generated by advertising. Google collects detailed information about its users, including their physical locations, in order to target users for advertising. Often this is done without the consent or knowledge of the users, ”he explained in a tweet.

In court documents from the Google case revealed and published by the independent local newspaper, Arizona Mirror, we learn that the giant continued to track the location of users in third-party applications and to collect this information when the devices connected to the WiFi, even with location services turned off. Exchanges between employees of the firm also show a certain fear vis-à-vis a possible fallout in the media. A Google employee quoted in the complaint in a redacted section, comments on this: “It doesn’t sound like something we would want on the front page of the NYT”. The Attorney General, more than critical of Google, accuses the firm of continuing to collect “location through WiFi connectivity”. “Google ensures that a user cannot opt ​​out of this form of location tracking unless the user completely disables their device’s WiFi functionality,” the complaint alleges, “which means that the device does not cannot connect to the internet via WiFi”.

Overwhelming internal exchanges

What follows is disconcerting. Some internal Google emails have been made public and show exchanges between employees of the firm. “People just think in terms of ‘location on’, ‘location off’ because that’s exactly what you have on the front screen of your phone,” an anonymous Google employee says in one of the newly released documents. posted in response to a colleague sharing a story about how users were confused by the setting. We also learn that “when an Android user whose GPS is activated on their phone goes to the Google Play Store, where applications are downloaded and updated, the Play Store grabs the location information”.

“Today, a set of device usage and diagnostics data is broken down into five metrics, making it difficult for Googlers, let alone users, to understand,” a document reads. heavily redacted. Google, aware of confusing users of Android devices, was especially concerned about the media fallout from the case. According to the Arizona Mirror, “an internal group chat used to share news was quickly shut down when they began discussing the article.”

Pressure on operators and manufacturers

The new complaint also reveals that Google allegedly pressured LG to move the location of the location button on its phones to the second page of settings, and it appears the request was made to other carriers. and manufacturers. “Google attempted to convince these carriers and manufacturers to conceal location settings – or make them less visible – through misrepresentations and/or concealment, deletion or omission of facts available to Google regarding the users’ experience, in order to allay their privacy concerns,” says Mark Brnovich’s complaint. “In reality, Google was simply trying to increase location attachment, which is critical to its own ad revenue,” it reads next.

For its part, Google said that it itself asked the court to redact certain parts of the documents that were published in order to protect the proprietary and confidential information of competitors like Oracle. The company also claims it cooperated with the attorney general and “provided tens of thousands of documents related to Brnovich’s investigation, and made many metrics easier to view.” Moving away from the Google ecosystem seems very complicated and leads to rethinking the predominant place of the giant in our daily lives.

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