Consumer Groups Urge FTC To Investigate Google Over Location Tracking
By Emily Birnbaum, THE HILL
November 27, 2018
A coalition of more than 75 consumer groups is urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Google for allegedly manipulating Android users into having their location tracked at all times.
The Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue in a letter Tuesday argued that Google "nudges" mobile phone users with Android operating systems to turn on their location services.
"Location data and history can reveal in detail an individual’s lifestyle, daily routines and interests,” the groups wrote. “Over time, the data can be used to infer highly sensitive information such as religious beliefs, political views and sexual orientation.”
The groups, which represent European and U.S. consumers, listed five ways they say Google "manipulates and nudges" users into turning on their location services.
They said Google does not properly disclose when location settings are enabled by default under "Web & App activity settings." Google is also criticized for repeatedly pushing its users to turn on their location under "Location History" settings.
A spokeswoman for the FTC confirmed that the agency has received the letter but declined to comment on the matter.
Tuesday's letter cited a new report from the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) that details the ways Google "continuously" tracks the location of its users.
The two Android phone features under scrutiny — "location history" and "Web & App Activity" — both allow Google to track the physical location of users. Even when a user turns off their location history, Google can access their location through "Web & App Activity" settings, according to the new report.
The group is alleging that the default location-tracking amounts to a violation of consumer protections, as well as a a grave invasion of user privacy.
Google, Facebook and Microsoft recently announced support for a comprehensive U.S. privacy law to match the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation law.
"However, vast evidence shows the company does not practice what it preaches," Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue wrote about Google, saying the company is "removing individuals’ control over their data by deceit."
A Google spokesman said in a statement to The Hill that “location history is turned off by default, and you can edit, delete, or pause it at any time."
"If you pause it, we make clear that -- depending on your individual phone and app settings -- we might still collect and use location data to improve your Google experience," the spokesman said. "We enable you to control location data in other ways too, including in a different Google setting called Web & App Activity, and on your device."
"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," the spokesman added, referring to the NCC report.