Google hit in Europe with complaint over ‘deceptive’ location tracking, faces massive fine

Google was hit with a privacy complaint by a group of seven European consumer watchdog agencies over what they call the company’s “deceptive” location tracking for ad-targeting purposes.

The complaint announced Tuesday was filed under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which stipulates that companies found in violation can face fines of up to 4 percent of global revenue (or 20 million euros, whichever is greater).

Under GDPR, which went into effect only in May, users must legally and freely consent to the processing of their personal data, including their location.

The agencies argue that Google does not have a legal basis to track users through its “location history” and web & app activity” settings. Google’s Android operating system is the dominant mobile OS across the world.

“Google is processing incredibly detailed and extensive personal data without proper legal grounds, and the data has been acquired through manipulation techniques,” Gro Mette Moen, acting head of the Norwegian Consumer Council’s digital services unit, said in a statement.


The new complaint flags a number of Google tactics and settings, including the fact that the “location history” setting can be enabled during Android setup without users being aware. It also points at users being “nudged” toward enabling location history at certain points if they have not turned it on during the setup process, and mentions certain crucial settings buried in menus and enabled by default, as well as the bundling of “invasive location tracking” with other Google services, such as photo sorting by location.

When reached by Fox News, Google provided the following statement:

“Location History is turned off by default, and you can edit, delete, or pause it at any time. If it’s on, it helps to improve services like predicted traffic on your commute. If you pause it, we make clear that – depending on your individual phone and app settings – we might still collect and use location data to improve your Google experience.”

The company’s statement continued: “We enable you to control location data in other ways too, including in a different Google setting called Web & App Activity, and on your device. We’re constantly working to improve our controls, and we’ll be reading this report closely to see if there are things we can take on board.”

Other tech companies are also being probed under the EU’s new privacy law. Facebook is under investigation for the data breach earlier this fall that compromised nearly 50 million user accounts.

Fox News Channel’s Gillian Turner contributed to this report.

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