Google agreed to pay $155 million for illegally tracking users’ locations without their consent

Google has reached an agreement to settle claims brought by the state of California and private plaintiffs that the search giant misled consumers regarding its tracking of their locations and the user of their data without proper consent.

As part of the agreement, Google also agreed to pay a $155 million fine, according to a report from Reuters. The two settlements put an end to claims that Alphabet Inc.’s unit, Google, had misled individuals into thinking they had control over how their personal data was collected and utilized.

The news comes a year after the Mountain View, California-based Google was fined $43 million for misleading users on the collection of their personal location data. The settlement came about eight months after US District Judge Lucy Koh was “disturbed” to learn that Google still tracks users in ‘Incognito’ mode in its Chrome browser.

The latest allegations against Google included the accusation that it could create user profiles and direct personalized advertising, even if users had disabled their “Location History” setting, Reuters reported. Additionally, Google was accused of deceiving users about their ability to block unwanted ads.

“Google was telling its users one thing–that it would no longer track their location once they opted out–but doing the opposite and continuing to track its users’ movements for its own commercial gain,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “That’s unacceptable.”

Under the California settlement, Google will pay $93 million and provide more transparent information about its location tracking and data usage practices.

In the $62 million private plaintiffs settlement, after legal fees are deducted, the remaining funds will be directed towards nonprofit organizations that focus on internet privacy concerns. This approach was chosen as it would be challenging to distribute funds to the roughly 247.7 million U.S. adults with mobile devices.

However, critics argue that such settlements, referred to as “cy pres,” offer limited benefits to class members.  So far, Google has denied any wrongdoing, and both settlements are contingent on court approval.

In a similar case last November, Google agreed to pay $391.5 million to resolve allegations made by 40 U.S. states. The tech has also settled for $124.9 million with the states of Arizona and Washington.

Google’s advertising revenue in the first half of 2023 reached $110.9 billion, constituting 81% of its total revenue of $137.7 billion.

On Friday, a Google spokesperson referred to a blog post addressing the multistate settlement, emphasizing that it pertained to “outdated product policies that we changed years ago.”

Lawyers representing the private plaintiffs have not provided immediate comments regarding the settlements.

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