Washington AG claims Google illegally tracks users in ‘dark’ pattern of behavior

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit on Monday against Google, alleging that the company misused user data to illegally track customers.

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The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court. In it, Ferguson claims that obscure settings, “misleading descriptions,” and “repeated nudging” to turn on location settings make it “nearly impossible for users to stop Google from collecting their location data.”

“Location data is deeply personal for consumers,” Ferguson said in a press release. “This information reveals the most significant details of our lives. Google denied consumers the ability to choose whether Google could track their sensitive location data to make a profit. Google kept tracking individuals’ location data even after consumers told the corporation to stop.”

“This is not only dishonest — it’s unlawful,” he added.

As Ferguson notes, when a user turns off Google’s location settings, there is a second setting under “Web & App Activity” left on by default, which still allows Google apps to store location data. That also applies to Android device users who flip a “master switch” designed to disable location tracking for all apps. Google is said to get around that setting by “instead using other information, such as an IP address, to infer the user’s location,” Ferguson’s office describes.

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He goes on to cite a previous report from the Associated Press in 2018, which detailed many of the allegations levied by Ferguson. It outlines how Google can often get around switched-off location settings through user web searches, its Maps app, or simply by taking information from automated weather updates.

Identical lawsuits were also filed by attorneys general in Washington, D.C., Texas, and Indiana. Should they prevail in court, they’re seeking civil damages from Google, as well as a court order mandating that the company cease the practices outlined in the litigation.

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