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Google ‘deceived’ users into giving up location data, state AGs allege in new suit

Google used “deceptive and unfair” practices to trick users into giving up valuable location data, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by attorneys general from Washington, DC and three states. The suit filed in Washington, DC civil court centers around so-called “dark patterns” — deceptive web design schemes that can trick users into making certain choices. In Google’s case, the company allegedly used dark patterns in users’ account settings to trick people into giving up detailed location data, which helped the company make money by targeting online ads more effectively. In one example, Google Maps told mobile users that they needed to agree to share their location history in order to “get the most from Google maps” — even though Google Maps could work normally without such data, according to the suit. In another case, Google repeatedly “nudged” users who had declined to share their location history with new prompts to enable the setting. “By repeatedly ‘nudging’ users to enable Google Account settings, Google increases the chances that a user will enable the setting inadvertently or out of frustration,” the attorneys general wrote. Google also gave users “misleading, ambiguous, and incomplete descriptions” of other location and privacy settings, leading some users to believe they weren’t sharing data with the company even when they were, according to the suit. “These practices harm consumers who wish to protect their sensitive location information from disclosure to Google and Google’s advertising customers, by making it difficult for consumers to deny Google access to their location information, regardless of whether that information is needed to provide services to the consumer,” the attorney generals wrote. Google did not immediately respond for a request for comment on the suit, which comes as the company is facing a barrage of regulatory battles — including a Texas-led antitrust suit over its advertising practices and a bill under consideration in the Senate that would stop the company from giving its own products a leg up in search results. The attorneys general say Google violated consumer protection laws and are seeking to fine the company, as well as bar it from continuing such practices. “Google has collected enormous amounts of location data from unwitting users and monetized that data in the service of Google’s advertising offerings without users’ knowledge or consent,” the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., Texas, Washington state and Indiana wrote in the bipartisan suit. News of the suit was first reported by The Washington Post.

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