We are never alone if we carry our smartphones with us. We are under constant surveillance. However, the question is: what is the limit? The “fever for data privacy” that spreads like a mantra in the US has reached a turning point with a recent fine, already described as historic, against Google by a whopping 40 states. The reason? They accuse the technology giant of illegally track the location of its users.
The prosecutor in charge of the case, belonging to the Connecticut attorney general’s office, has not wavered and has agreed with these states. Google must pay a fine of just over 391 million dollars, or what is the same about 379 million euros. It is thus about highest payout in US history by a private company in the face of a demand of this caliber.
And it is that, according to information collected by the prosecution in an investigation open since 2018, Google was collecting information about the location of consumers who, beware! they had previously expressed that they did not want to be ‘spyed on’. According to the judge, location data is one of the most sensitive and at the same time valuable types of information that Google collects, especially for commercial purposes.
Google says it will be more transparent
William Tong, the state’s attorney general, has stated: “That is an unacceptable invasion of consumer privacy and a violation of state law.” While the one from Iowa stressed that “when consumers make the decision not to share location data from their devices, they should be able to trust that the company will no longer track their movements.” However, Google has prioritized profit over user privacy, as criticized by the most critical voices.
What Google did was use that data to create detailed user profiles and, after the fact, target ads to consumers. They received close and relevant advertising to capture their attention, although they had made it clear that they did not want to receive such advertising, sometimes disguised as suggestions and sometimes not as noticeable to the naked eye as real advertisements.
In its decision, the prosecution has urged not only Google but other companies that “must be transparent (…) and comply with privacy laws.” The multinational will pay that prominent fine to avoid going to trial and, in addition, it has promised to be more transparent before the judge. To do this, it will show users whenever they enable or disable a location-related account setting. Also key information about location tracking will not be hidden from users. And, in addition, it will provide explanations through a website about the types of location data it collects and how and for what purpose it is used.
In the resolution, the investigation has made it clear that “Google violated state consumer protection laws”At least since 2014. It should be remembered that the technology company had revenue of 110,000 million dollars from advertising in the first half of this year, that is more than any online ad seller. In the last quarter, it added another 54,482 million dollars.
It’s not the only sanctioning upset for Google this year. It should be remembered that last September, on the other side of the pond, a final resolution by the General Court of the European Union agreed with the European Commission in a dispute between it and Google in events that also dated back to 2018. This time with the signing by the technological giant of supposed illegal contracts with the manufacturers of Android and that they completely disregarded the rules established in the European antitrust law. Google was forced to finally pay the fine imposed in the trial amounting to 4,125 million euros.