New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced Nov. 14 that the Garden State joined 39 others to enter a settlement with Google over location tracking practices.
The $391.5 million settlement is the largest multistate privacy settlement with state attorneys general in U.S. history. Under the agreement, New Jersey will receive approximately $17.79 million.
The settlement resolves a multistate investigation into allegations that Google violated consumers’ privacy by misleading them about the company’s location data collection practices. Location data is a key part of Google’s digital advertising business, which uses the information for targeted ads. Tracked using sensors including GPS, cell tower, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals, it is also among the most sensitive information Google collects.
“Digital platforms like Google cannot claim to provide privacy controls to users then turn around and disregard those controls to collect and sell data to advertisers against users’ express wishes – and at great profit,” said Platkin. “When online platforms violate consumers’ right to privacy, they put their users at risk. This settlement holds Google accountable for its misleading conduct and requires the company to make meaningful changes to its business practices to ensure consumers’ privacy rights are respected and protected.”
An investigation began following a 2018 Associated Press article that claimed Google records information even when users tell it not to. The attorneys general alleged that Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading users about its location tracking practices in various ways since at least 2014.
“When an online company promises consumer privacy, we expect them to make good on that promise,” said Cari Fais, acting director of the division of consumer Affairs. “Google’s privacy controls did not stop Google from collecting data, regardless of what choices consumers made, a clear and egregious violation of their own business model and our consumer protection laws.”
Under the settlement, Google also agreed to a series of provisions to give consumers more transparency into their location data collection practices, including:
- Requiring Google to show additional information to users whenever they turn an account setting “on” or “off”;
- Clearly and conspicuously disclosing key information about location tracking to users;
- Creating an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage where users can get detailed information about the type(s) of location data Google collects and how it’s used.
The settlement also puts limits on Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google’s account controls to be more user-friendly.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“This settlement sends a clear message that we will hold companies accountable when they fail to follow through on the assurances they make to consumers,” said Fais.