On November 14th, Google agreed to a record settlement after misleading users about its location tracking practices. The following statement can be attributed to Caitlin Seeley George (she/her/hers), Campaign and Managing Director at Fight for the Future:
“On Monday, we learned that a Big Tech company has once again been caught endangering its users. In this case, Google is mounting the podium—it’s paying out the US’s largest multistate privacy settlement after being caught lying to users about how they’re tracked. Of course, the $391.5 million fine is a drop in the bucket to a company that netted $14 billion in the 3rd quarter of 2022 alone. Even updates to Google’s disclosure policy won’t make amends to the people their privacy violations have put in harm’s way.
Google’s misstep is a disgusting breach of user trust. Untold numbers of people believed that they could travel without fear of location surveillance because they had turned off location services or logged out of their Google accounts. But Google was tracking them the entire time.
This is a nightmare scenario for anyone—a device you own, constantly feeding your location back to a company even though you’d thought you’d opted out—but it’s especially scary for people who had a specific reason for disabling tracking on their Android. That trip to the testing site, an abortion clinic, a vulnerable friend, or a domestic violence shelter: nope, not private, and not safe.
In June, Fight for the Future and 56 other civil rights groups signed an open letter and petition calling on Google to cease collecting and storing unnecessary location data, after the reversal of Roe v. Wade made Google’s data complicit in the criminalization of abortion seekers and providers. That letter echoed a similar demand made by 40+ Members of Congress. November 14th’s settlement (and Google’s historical data security failures) demonstrates that we’re not only fighting what companies say they’re doing with our data: we’re up against the lies of an industry captivated by surveillance-for-profit.
Our privacy rights are being held hostage by untrustworthy tech monopolies that sell out our privacy and face no meaningful competition, because they’ve bought up their adversaries and lobbied for weak regulation. Big Tech’s business model impels them to gather all the data they can, and privacy and our rights aren’t part of the equation.
When a company can make monolithic decisions that impact our material safety, something’s rotten with the rules that govern that company. A federal data privacy law is a critical piece of the puzzle. We must pass legislation that protects consumers from Big Tech’s all-out data collecting spree, and we at Fight will continue to push lawmakers to address some of the issues with the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA) so it can move forward. Additionally, we’ll continue to advance AICOA and OAMA, two Actually Good antitrust bills that would put a big dent in Big Tech’s exploitative tracking practices. Congress must pass them during the ‘lame duck.’
While accountability is good, the results of the states’ probe are effectively meaningless for the people who have already been put in danger by Google’s lies. Who knows which companies, law enforcement groups, and individuals have already accessed sensitive location data? And, although Google must now make its location tracking practices ‘more clear,’ that’s also meaningless for consumers who remain unprotected by privacy regulation and have no real choice as to which tech services they use. Congress must develop meaningful privacy regulation and pass AICOA and OAMA during the ‘lame duck’ so that un-terrible alternatives to Big Tech monopolies can emerge.”