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Consumer groups want EU to go after Google for tracking users with their phones

Published Nov 27th, 2018 10:04PM EST
Google Location Tracking
Image: John G Mabanglo / Epa/Shutterstock

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A report a few weeks ago revealed what some Google users already knew: That disabling Location History doesn’t mean Google will not record your location with the help of certain mobile apps, especially the ones that need your location to work correctly, like Google Maps and Search.

There is a way to stop location tracking for good, but it’s not obvious to the user. In order to do so, you have to pause Web & Activity tracking to prevent Google from storing your location. Because of that, Google may face a new investigation in Europe, where consumer groups want regulators to look into the matter.

Per Reuters, consumer agencies from the Czech Republic, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, and Sweden countries asked local privacy regulators to act against Google for allegedly tracking the movements of millions of users, which may be a violation of the new GDPR laws.

The European Consumer Organization (BEUG), a consumer lobby group, alleges that Google employed various methods to encourage users to turn on the “location history” and “web and app activity” features that are integrated into all Google accounts.

These unfair practices leave consumers in the dark about the use of their personal data.

These practices are not compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as Google lacks a valid legal ground for processing the data in question. In particular, the report shows that users’ consent provided under these circumstances is not freely given.

Google had this to say about the complaints:

Location History is turned off by default, and you can edit, delete, or pause it at any time. If it’s on, it helps improve services like predicted traffic on your commute.

If you pause it, we make clear that — depending on your individual phone and app settings — we might still collect and use location data to improve your Google experience.

We’re constantly working to improve our controls, and we’ll be reading this report closely to see if there are things we can take on board.

A few days after the initial report that detailed Google’s tracking practices, Google changed the wording of its support page to make it clearer to users how location tracking works, after initially having defended its privacy policy. Soon after that, Google had to face the first lawsuit on the matter — a class action suit. The complaint said that Google falsely assures people they won’t be tracked when they turned Location History 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,” that complaint read.

The plaintiff was seeking unspecified damages for Google’s alleged intentional violations of California privacy laws and intrusion into people’s private affairs, according to a Reuters report from a few months ago.

Furthermore, the Electronic Privacy Information Center sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google for violating a consent decree it signed in 2011. Back then, Google was accused of violating its own privacy policies and agreed not to do it in the future, accepting independent audits of its privacy practices for the next 20 years.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.