Google’s Oregon-led privacy settlement requires more transparency about data collection

The Oregon Capitol is pictured on a cell phone in this file photo, taken in October 2020.

The Oregon Capitol is pictured on a cell phone in this file photo, taken in October 2020.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has announced what she called the largest AG-led internet privacy settlement in US history. It stems from a case led by the Attorneys General of Oregon and Nebraska. They got Google to pay almost $400 million. The issue at the center of the settlement is location data.

The states alleged that Google misled its users. Those users had location tracking turned off, but the company was still collecting that data. Kristen Hilton, senior assistant attorney general of Oregon, led the litigation team. She told “Think Out Loud” that the investigation began with a 2018 Associated Press article in which Google told people they could disable their tracking app and it would stop collecting that information.

And that wasn’t a real explanation. It turned out that there was another institution collecting essentially the same type of location data from people. And this other setting called “web and app activity” turned on automatically for anyone who had a Google account, which mainly affected Android users because you need a Google account to use the Android phone. to use.”

But she said anyone with Gmail on a mobile device had their detailed location data collected over several years.

Hilton said one of the biggest challenges in pursuing privacy protections for Google users was that laws governing corporate behavior are seriously out of date.

“They were around before Google was even a company, before we all walked around with mobile devices in our pockets. And so the current laws can be really restrictive of what we can say as violations,” she said. “So we really need stricter consumer privacy laws in this country.”

Google did not admit any mistakes in the settlement, but in addition to the $391.5 million it will have to pay, the settlement also requires changes from the company.

“One of the most important changes is that they’re making their control settings more user-friendly,” said Hilton. “So if a user wants to turn off some of these settings that collect location data, they can turn off those settings and delete the data that was collected up to that point at the same time.”

In addition, Google must have a location technologies page that makes clear exactly what information is collected and what it does with that data.

“And one of the biggest changes is that anyone who gets an Android phone and has to sign up for a new Google account will see detailed information about it, which was previously a hidden setting, which also collected location information,” he said. Hilton.

Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum and Nebraska’s AG Doug Peterson co-led the study, which was signed by 38 other states. Oregon’s share of the settlement is $14 million.

Hilton says the attorney general’s office will file privacy legislation to further protect Oregonians during the 2023 legislative session, which begins in mid-January.