Dark patterns: Texas sues Google, claiming ‘deceptive location tracking’

The lawsuit, which also includes Washington, Indiana and the District of Columbia, claims that turning off location tracking in Google apps does not stop the tracking.

By Shelly BrisbinJanuary 25, 2022 12:19 pm, ,

Texas, along with Washington state, Indiana and the District of Columbia, filed suit Monday against Google, alleging the internet giant engages in deceptive location tracking. The suit claims that even when users of Google apps turn off location-tracking features, Google continues to record their movements. Texas and other states have previously sued Google over allegations that the company engages in anti-competitive advertising practices.

David Shepardson reported on the lawsuit for Reuters, along with his colleague, Doina Chiacu. He told Texas Standard that Google’s $150 billion advertising business depends in part on the data it collects from mobile users.

“A lot of that advertising comes from being able to target advertisements to individuals based on where they are, and their habits,” Shepardson said.

When location tracking is left on, Google apps and mobile phone operating systems not only know where you are, but can offer suggestions for where you might want to go, based on your past behavior. But devices and apps collect additional data that’s valuable to Google and its advertisers.

“This is about other data that phones collect, beyond just that location history,” Shepardson said. “And Google is able to use that data to continue to amass data about where users are and to help create profiles to help target advertising.”

The new lawsuits accuse Google of using “dark patterns” to continue tracking people’s locations.

“One of the suits says that Google designs its products to push or pressure people to provide more location data, either inadvertently or out of frustration,” Shepardson said. “You notice if you use certain services, like Google Maps, if you agree to give them your location data, it makes it a lot easier to use the map.”

Shepardson says the states filing suit believe Google users should be better informed about how the apps they use actually track them and when.

Google says the allegations in the suit are outdated. The suit covers the period between 2015 and 2019. Google says it has enhanced its privacy protections and disclosures since that time.

“They say, ‘Look, every time we serve up a new app, or a new request, we do ask you as a user to say yes or no,'” Shepardson said.

A judge hearing an earlier Arizona lawsuit against Google expressed skepticism of state claims that users should be able to expect that turning off location tracking would keep Google from doing any tracking.

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