Photo: The Pancake of Heaven!

It’s great progress that 40 state attorneys general have reached a $391.5 million settlement with Google over its location tracking practices.

The Big Four – Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook – have tremendous power over our personal information and more needs to be done to rein them in.

Google misled its users into thinking they had turned off location tracking in their account settings, when Google actually continued to collect their location information, according to the settlement. In addition to paying money, Google has agreed to improve its location tracking disclosures and user controls starting in 2023.

“For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. “They have been crafty and deceptive. Consumers thought they had turned off their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”

Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects to build detailed user profiles and target ads.

The settlement requires Google to:

  1. Show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off.”
  2. Make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (for example, not hidden).
  3. Give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage.

The attorneys general opened the Google investigation following a 2018 Associated Press article that revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.”

The article focused on two Google account settings: Location History and Web & App Activity. Location History is “off” unless a user turns on the setting, but Web & App Activity, a separate account setting, is automatically “on” when users set up a Google account, including all Android users.

I appreciate attorneys general stepping up and taking this action. Congress should have already developed privacy regulations for the Big Four, but with a divided Congress, which will be even more divided after the midterm elections, its ability to protect our personal data will likely continue to lag.

The Big Four treat consumers like commodities, exploiting people’s personal data and trying their best to keep what they do hidden, said Marta L. Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports in her book “Buyer Aware: Harnessing Our Consumer Power for a Safe, Fair, and Transparent Marketplace.”

Get a copy of her book to learn more about this. The scope of the problem is startling and disturbing.

Originally Published on

Rita Robison Consumer & Personal Finance Journalist

For more than two decades, Rita R. Robison has been a consumer and personal finance journalist making her living by finding the best bargains, calling out the crooks, and advocating for regular people just like you and me. In that time, Robison has talked to so many people who feel like their money just isn’t getting them what they want, where they want to be, or the life they thought it would.

The purpose of her blog is to help you get what you want from your money. Robison covers financial goals, budgets, debt reduction, saving, smart choices for buying goods and services, and retirement planning. You’ll also find articles on safety, such as avoiding scams, looking out for rip off companies, and getting informed on the latest recalls.

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