Unredacted documents in Arizona’s lawsuit against Google reveal that the company’s engineers and executives were aware that Google made it hard for smartphone users to keep location information private. As per the document, the company collected location data even after users had turned off location sharing and made privacy settings difficult for users to find. There was pressure from Google to the phone manufacturers to keep privacy settings hidden as the setting was popular among users.
A lawsuit against Google was filed by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovic last May. He said that Google illegally tracked Android users’ location without their permission, even if users had disabled location tracking features. For some features, Google kept location track running in the background, the lawsuit suggested. This practice was only stopped when users disabled system-level tracking. The company has collected user location data using different methods like 3rd party apps not affiliated with Google or Wi-Fi.
The unredacted documents were 1st accessed by Business Insider show one team member of the company asked if there was “no way to give a third-party app your location and not Google?” It didn’t sound like something Google wants to reveal to the media. Last week a judge ordered new sections of the documents to be unredacted in response to a request by News Media Alliance and trade groups Digital Content Next.
The documents also revealed that the company deliberately obscures its data collection practices confusing its employees and users. The company tested more accessible privacy settings; most users were seen to take advantage of these. To avoid this, Google resorted to burying those settings deeper into the menu, making them harder to find. It even went as far as to make OEMs hide location settings “through active misrepresentations and/ or concealment, suppression, or omission of facts.”
Google spokesperson José Castañeda said in an email that “Brnovich and our competitors driving this lawsuit have gone out of their way to mischaracterize our services. We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We look forward to setting the record straight.”