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Federal Court orders Google LLC to pay $60m for misleading data collection

Following court action by the ACCC, Google LLC has been ordered to pay $60 million in penalties by the Federal Court for misleading representations to consumers about the collection and use of their personal location data on Android phones between January 2017 and December 2018.

user iconReporter
Mon, 15 Aug 2022
Federal Court orders Google LLC to pay $60m for misleading data collection
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Google LLC and Google Australia (together, Google) had previously been found to have breached Australian Consumer Law by the Federal Court.

The tech giant had represented to some Android users that the setting titled "Location History" was the only Google account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept and used personally identifiable data about their location. In fact, another Google account setting titled "Web & App Activity" also enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on, and that setting was turned on by default.

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Commenting on the court order, ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb stressed that consumers should never be misled about data collection.

"Personal location data is sensitive and important to some consumers, and some of the users who saw the representations may have made different choices about the collection, storage and use of their location data if the misleading representations had not been made by Google.

"Google, one of the world’s largest companies, was able to keep the location data collected through the 'Web & App Activity' setting and that retained data could be used by Google to target ads to some consumers, even if those consumers had the 'Location History' setting turned off.

"This significant penalty imposed by the court today sends a strong message to digital platforms and other businesses, large and small, that they must not mislead consumers about how their data is being collected and used," Cass-Gottlieb said.

Remedial steps were enacted by Google which had addressed all of the contravening conduct by 20 December 2018, which means users were no longer shown the misleading screens.

"This is the first public enforcement outcome arising out of the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry," Cass-Gottlieb added.

Based on available data, and according to the ACCC's best estimate, users of 1.3 million Google accounts in Australia may have viewed a screen found by the court to have breached the Australian Consumer Law.

"Companies need to be transparent about the types of data that they are collecting and how the data is collected and may be used, so that consumers can make informed decisions about who they share that data with," Cass-Gottlieb said.

The court also made orders requiring Google to ensure its policies include a commitment to compliance and to train certain staff about Australian Consumer Law, as well as to pay a contribution to the ACCC's costs.

The ACCC and Google jointly submitted to the court that a penalty of $60 million against Google LLC was appropriate, and that no separate penalty against Google Australia was necessary, in circumstances where the Australian company was not responsible for the preparation of the screens which the court found were misleading.

[Related: Hacker linked to Lapsus$ gang hits Cisco with cyber attack]

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