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Google facing lawsuit over its location tracking feature

The suit alleges the company tracks users’ location regardless of their privacy settings

Photo (c) barisonal - Getty Images
Google has been hit with a lawsuit over claims that it monitors the whereabouts of iPhone and Android users despite their “Location History” settings being turned off.

“Google represented that a user ‘can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.’ This simply was not true,” the complaint, filed late Friday in San Francisco federal court, said.

The lawsuit accuses the tech giant of violating the privacy of its users and cites a report last week that found these claims to be accurate.

As part of an investigation by the Associated Press, computer science researchers at Princeton University were able to create a visual map of the movements of the study’s subject as he moved around with his Android phone that had Location History toggled off.

The map included the subject’s “train commute on two trips to New York and visits to the High Line park, Chelsea Market, Hell’s Kitchen, Central Park, and Harlem. To protect his privacy, The AP didn’t plot the most telling and frequent marker -- his home address.”

Google updates location history language

After the report was released, Google altered the help section of its website to clarify that turning location history off “does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device.” The company noted that location data may also be tracked for use in other services such as maps or search.

Previously, the page had indicated that turning location history off ensured that places visited were not logged by Google.

“We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear across our platforms and help centers,” Google said in a statement to the Associated Press.  

Violation of privacy

The plaintiff, Napoleon Patacsil of San Diego, is seeking unspecified damages, as well as class-action status on behalf of all U.S. iPhone or Android users who turned off the location history feature with the belief that it would grant them privacy.

The suit alleges that Google is in violation of California's Invasion of Privacy Act.

"Google expressly represented to users of its operating system and apps that the activation of certain settings will prevent the tracking of users' geolocations," the lawsuit said. "This representation was false."

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