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Google Hid Privacy Settings on Android Phones, Made Confusing Data Collection Policies: Report

Court documents from a US lawsuit are said to reveal that Google deliberately obscures its data collection practices to confuse users and its own employees.

Google Hid Privacy Settings on Android Phones, Made Confusing Data Collection Policies: Report

Google reportedly pressurised OEMs like LG to hiding settings ‘precisely because users liked them’

Highlights
  • Google said to have intentionally made privacy settings harder to find
  • Last year, Arizona’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against Google
  • Unredacted documents from the lawsuit were released recently

Google hid privacy settings and made them harder to find, according to unredacted documents from a lawsuit in Arizona, US cited in a report. Google is said to have continued to collect location data, even when key location sharing was turned off. The documents also reportedly reveal that Google's own executives and engineers know how difficult it is for smartphone users to keep their location data private. Last year, Arizona's attorney general sued the tech giant for its unethical Android data collection practices and unredacted documents from that lawsuit have been released on the web.

The unredacted documents were first accessed by Business Insider and they reportedly reveal that Google continued to collect location data even when the location-sharing settings were turned off. A judge ordered new sections of the documents to be unredacted last week in response to a request by trade groups Digital Content Next and News Media Alliance.

The documents reveal that Google pressurised OEMs like LG to hide settings “precisely because users liked them” and made popular privacy settings harder to find, as per the report. The tech giant is said to have collected user location data by using different methods like Wi-Fi, or third-party apps not affiliated with Google.

"This may be how Apple is eating our lunch," Google employees said in the deposition adding that Apple didn't access location through third-party apps.

The documents, as per the report, also revealed that Google deliberately obscures its data collection practices, confusing users and its own employees. Former VP of Google Maps, Jack Menzel reportedly admitted during a deposition that the only way “Google wouldn't be able to figure out a user's home and work locations is if that person intentionally threw Google off the trail by setting their home and work addresses as some other random locations”.

According to the documents cited in the report, when Google tested more accessible privacy settings, most users were seen to take advantage of these. To avoid this, Google is said to have resorted to burying those settings deeper into the menu, making them harder to find. The documents reportedly state that Google even went as far as to make OEMs hide location settings "through active misrepresentations and/ or concealment, suppression, or omission of facts".

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Further reading: Google, Android, Arizona Lawsuit
Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com. More
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