Google to pay N.J. $17M for misleading consumers on tracking services

By: - November 14, 2022 4:06 pm

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin announced Monday that the state will receive almost $18 million in a multi-state settlement with Google over privacy. (Photo by Edwin J. Torres|NJ Governor’s Office)

Nearly $17.8 million is headed New Jersey’s way after 40 states entered a settlement agreement with Google to resolve accusations the tech giant misled users into believing their location data was off while the company kept collecting that information.

Under the settlement, Google agreed to pay $391.5 million to 40 states, the largest multi-state privacy settlement with state attorneys general in history.

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin said the settlement holds Google accountable for its misleading conduct and requires the company to make meaningful changes to its business practices to protect consumers’ privacy rights.

“Digital platforms like Google cannot claim to provide privacy controls to users then turn around and disregard those controls to collect and sell data to advertisers against users’ express wishes — and at great profit,” Platkin said in a statement.

A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond for comment.

The investigation was spurred by a 2018 Associated Press story that found Google continues to track people’s locations even if they opted out. The AP reported that nearly two billion users who run Google’s Android software and millions more iPhone users who use Google apps had their location tracked through GPS, bluetooth, wi-fi, cell towers, and app activity.

The attorneys general investigated Google’s practices between 2014 to 2020, alleging the company violated state consumer protection laws that bar companies from intentionally deceiving and misleading users. The states claimed the search engine company confused users about the scope of location history setting and ways to limit Google’s location tracking in their accounts and devices.

Google agreed to be more transparent about how it collects location data, some of which the company says has already been done. Google now must explain when an account setting is on or off, clearly disclosing key information about location services and posting a popup directing people to a website to get more facts about what kind of location data gets collected and how it’s used.

The settlement also limits the type of location information Google can use and store and requires Google to be more user-friendly so people can easily disable location tracking, delete data collected, and set retention limits on their devices.

New Jersey was among a coalition of 10 states — including Pennsylvania, Florida, Oregon, and Tennessee — that led negotiations in the settlement. The final settlement was joined by 30 more states, including New York, Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts.

It’s unclear how New Jersey or other states will spend the money. A spokesperson for Platkin didn’t respond to follow-up questions.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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