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Google to pay $391.5 million in location tracking settlement with 40 states

Google has agreed to a $391.5 million settlement with 40 state attorneys general over its location tracking practices. The settlement outlines that Google misled its users into thinking they had turned off location tracking even as the company continued to collect their location information. The investigation, which marks the largest attorney general-led consumer privacy settlement ever, was co-led by Oregon and Washington.

“For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum in a news release. “They have been crafty and deceptive. Consumers thought they had turned off their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”

Google said in a statement that it has already addressed and corrected some of the location tracking practices detailed in the settlement.

"Consistent with improvements we've made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago," a spokesperson for Google told TechCrunch in an email.

As part of the settlement, Google has agreed to improve its location tracking disclosures and user controls starting next year. The settlement requires Google to show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting on or off. Key information about location tracking must also not be hidden going forward.

In a blog post, Google outlined it will "provide a new control that allows users to easily turn off their Location History and Web & App Activity settings and delete their past data in one simple flow." The company also plans to add additional disclosures to its Activity controls and Data & Privacy pages.

Alongside these changes, Google is going to create a comprehensive information hub that highlights key location settings. In addition, Google plans to give users who are setting up new accounts a more detailed explanation of what Web & App Activity is and what information it includes. The company said it will continue deleting location history data for users who have not recently contributed new location history data to their account.

"Until we have comprehensive privacy laws, companies will continue to compile large amounts of our personal data for marketing purposes with few controls,” Rosenblum said in the news release.

The attorneys general opened the Google investigation after a 2018 Associated Press report found that the company recorded users' movements even when they explicitly told it not to. The investigation found that Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location tracking practices since at least 2014.

Last month, Google agreed to pay the state of Arizona $85 million to settle a separate lawsuit that alleged the search giant deceived users by collecting location data without their consent. Google is also currently facing a lawsuit from Washington, DC, Texas, Washington state and Indiana. The lawsuit alleges that Google deceived users by collecting their location data even when they believed that kind of tracking was disabled.