Google executives and engineers were aware of how difficult it was for smartphone users to keep their location data private, according to newly unredacted documents in a lawsuit against the internet company.
According to BusinessInsider, Google continued to collect location information even when users had turned off the location-sharing settings. The documents further reveal the company made privacy settings more difficult for users to spot. The company pressured OEMs such as LG and others into hiding the location settings citing popularity with users, according to documents.
The report further reveals that ex-VP of Google Maps Jack Menzel acknowledged that the only way Google will not know a person’s location if the person deliberately sets their home and work addresses to a different location.
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The documents further reveal Google’s intricate data collection methods. According to the report, Google uses different factors to collect location data, including Wi-Fi and even third-party applications not associated with Google.
“So there is no way to give a third-party app your location and not Google?” one employee said, according to the documents, adding: “This doesn’t sound like something we would want on the front page of the [New York Times].”
The report further said that when Google tested different versions of Android OS that made it easier for users to access privacy settings, user leveraged them to disable the data sharing. Google, however, deemed it as a “problem”, and to fix it, Google chose to bury these within the settings menu. The company also tried to convince smartphone companies to hide location settings “through active misrepresentations and/or concealment, suppression, or omission of facts” – that is, data Google had showing that users were using those settings – “in order to assuage [manufacturers’] privacy concerns.”
The new unredacted documents are part of a lawsuit filed by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. The lawsuit alleged that Google had continued to track users’ location without their consent despite users had disabled location tracking features. It further alleged that Google tracked users’ location in the background and only could stop when a user disabled system-level tracking.
Responding to the lawsuit, a Google spokesperson told The Verge 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.”