Google accused of ignoring European data protection laws with location tracking
| Consumer organisations file complaints with regulators over Google’s location tracking systems.
A coalition of seven consumer organisations has filed complaints with local data protection regulators over Google’s tracking system. The complaints are based on research by one of the coalition’s members, alleging people are forced to use location tracking.
Increasingly, people are aware that Google collects location-based data using ‘Location History’ and ‘Web & App Activity’. However, the coalition’s research states that Google uses a number of deceptive techniques, tricking consumers into leaving location tracking on.
These techniques include:
- Hidden default settings
- Deceptive click-flow
- App permissions
- Always-on settings
Google argues that tracking is turned off by default and users can pause it at any time.
Control over location tracking “not straightforward”
In a statement, the coalition alleges that Google did not give “straightforward information” about what surrendering the data entailed. Location data could give deep insights into someone’s lifestyle including their religious beliefs, political activity, health and sexual orientation”.
BEUC, speaking for the consumer groups, said:
These unfair practices leave consumers in the dark about the use of their personal data.
Organisations in Poland, Greece, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Netherlands, and Czech Republic plan to file complaints to their regulators under GDPR. The seven organisations are members of BEUC – an umbrella group that represents European consumer advocacy groups in Brussels.
Location Tracking off by default
In response, Google said:
Location history is turned off by default and you can edit, delete, or pause it at any time. If it’s on however, it helps improve services like predicted traffic on your commute.
Anyone who did pause tracking was told that Google might still collect data about where people went, “depending on your individual phone and app settings”.
A spokesperson for Google added:
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.
The VPN Guru offers the following advice to people who want to protect their location data:
- Turn Off all of your Activity Controls of your Google Account
- Delete your Location History and turn it off
- Disable Voice and Audio Activity
- Delete Voice and Audio data
- Use a VPN to mask your real geographic location