Ferguson’s lawsuit accuses Google of secretly tracking consumers’ location
SEATTLE — A King County Superior Court judge has rejected Google’s attempt to dismiss Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit against the international technology giant.
Ferguson filed the lawsuit against Google in January for deceptively leading consumers to believe that they have control over how their location data is collected and used by Google. In reality, consumers cannot effectively prevent Google from collecting, storing and profiting from their location data.
“Location data is deeply personal for consumers,” Ferguson said. “Google kept tracking individuals’ location data even after they told the corporation to stop. Google did this to increase its profits. This is not only a violation of Washingtonians’ privacy — it’s unlawful. Google attempted to evade accountability for its actions, and the judge rejected the corporation’s arguments.”
With this ruling, Ferguson’s case proceeds in King County Superior Court.
Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts Google uses a number of deceptive and unfair practices to obtain users’ “consent” to be tracked. As a result, it is nearly impossible for users to stop Google from collecting their location data. These practices include hard-to-find location settings, misleading descriptions of location settings, repeated nudging to enable location settings and incomplete disclosures of Google’s location data collection.
Google’s conduct includes:
- Collecting location data even when consumers disable “Location History.”
- Tracking Android devices, even with location access turned off.
- Repeatedly nudging users to consent to location tracking and wrongly claiming certain products won’t function unless location is enabled.
Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts that Google violated the Washington State Consumer Protection Act by collecting, storing and using consumers’ location data without their knowledge or consent, or even directly against users’ intent.
The lawsuit asks the court to stop Google from continuing its unlawful conduct. In addition, the lawsuit asks the court to order Google to:
- Pay monetary penalties under the Consumer Protection Act of up to $7,500 per violation. The Attorney General's Office estimates there are a massive number of potential violations of the Consumer Protection Act — likely reaching into the hundreds of thousands of potential violations.
- Relinquish the profits it made from its deceptive practices.
- Give up the data acquired from its deceptive conduct.
Assistant attorneys general Andrea Alegrett, Dan Davies, Joe Kanada, Kathleen Box, Ben Brysacz and Rabi Lahiri, as well as paralegal Judy Lim and legal assistant Jennifer Marin, are handling the case for Washington.
A trial in the case is currently set for January 2023.
Other actions against Google
In December 2020, Ferguson and a bipartisan coalition of 38 attorneys general filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against Google. The lawsuit asserts that Google illegally leverages its dominance in the online search and search advertising markets to stifle competing platforms, drive advertisers away from rival search engines, and limit competing specialized sellers’ ability to bring customers directly to their sites from general Google search results.
In June of 2021, Ferguson announced Google paid $423,659.76 to Washington’s Public Disclosure Transparency Account for violating the state’s campaign finance disclosure law, which Washingtonians adopted by initiative in 1972. This was the second lawsuit against Google for similar violations. In 2018, Google paid Washington state $217,000 to resolve Ferguson’s lawsuit accusing the company of violating Washington campaign finance disclosure laws that require political advertisers to maintain information about those who purchase advertising and make that information available to the public.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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