Google accused of misusing location tracking tools

Seven consumer groups already ‘filed complaints’ with regulators because of company's user tracking

Photo: EPA

Google reportedly runs the risk of hefty fines from the European Union’s data-protection watchdogs after consumer groups across the bloc accused the tech giant of allegedly tracking the movements of millions of users in breach of the bloc's new privacy laws.

According to the Brussels-based European Consumer Organisation, for instance, the company collected location data of people, who use Google’s services or accounts on their smartphones and features like “location history’’and “web & app activity,’’ which is in breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that entered into force in May.

As a result seven European consumer organisations on Tuesday said they would file complaints with their national regulators, who now have powers to levy penalties of as much as 4 per cent of a company’s annual sales for the most serious violations. The groups, which included those in the Czech Republic, Greece, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden, Poland and Norway, all together accuse Google of collecting data that can reveal a lot more about its users than just their location, such as their political leanings or sexual orientation. According to them the information was used for services such as targeted advertising.

“Google’s data hunger is notorious but the scale with which it deceives its users to track and monetise their every move is breathtaking,” Monique Goyens, director of BEUC, said in an emailed statement, continuing that the Alphabet unit “is not respecting fundamental GDPR principles, such as the obligation to use data in a lawful, fair and transparent manner.”

In an emailed response to the accusations, Google said that location history is turned off by default and users can edit, delete or pause it at any time, though switching it on helps improve services like predicted traffic on a commute home. Google also makes clear to users that if they pause location history, it could still collect and use location data depending on other phone and app settings, the company said.

“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,” Google spokesman Al Verney said.

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