Google Class Action Says Users’ Locations Tracked Despite Privacy Settings

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A California consumer is taking on Google in a location tracking class action lawsuit, saying his right to privacy was violated by the technology giant.

Plaintiff Napoleon Patacsil filed the Google Location Sharing class action lawsuit last week in California federal court, claiming Google intentionally misrepresented to both Android and Apple device users that turning off “Location History” would result in Google ceasing to track, record, and use an individual’s location information but failed to hold up their end of the deal. California law prohibits prohibits the use of an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of a person.

Patacsil says that he owned and used an Apple iPhone since 2016 that had various Google apps and functionalities on it. While using these apps, Patacsil “expressly” attempted to limit Google’s tracking of his location by managing his Location History settings – basically turning the apps’ Location History storage option to “off”. Despite doing this, Google continued to track his location information, the complaint states. Patacsil also says the same thing happened when he had his Android phone prior to his iPhone.

The overwhelming majority of mobile phones run on one of two operating systems: Android or iOS, which are developed by Google and Apple, respectively. On each of these operating systems, users can customize their devices to their preferences by “managing” various functionalities of their phones. They can, for example, change their time zone, preferred language, or screen brightness. Included among these functionalities is the option to turn on or off the retention of “Location History”—that is, the individual’s precise location information as determined through the phone’s GPS coordinates.

According to the Google Location Tracking class action lawsuit, Google represented to its users that turning Location History off would prevent the company from tracking and recording where an individual had been. In layman’s terms, when users customize their locating tracking options at the app level, for instance on Google Maps, or a weather or a ride-sharing app, they are under the impression that by just clicking “no”, that their information will no longer be tracked or shared. In fact, Google’s support page on the subject states “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

But Patacsil alleges Google’s representation are false and that turning off “Location History” only stops the tech giant from creating a location timeline that the user can view but that is still tracked and recorded by Google.

“Like all Class members, although [Patacsil] wishes to control the circumstances under which his location information can be collected and used by Google, Google has shown deliberate indifference to those wishes and has indeed taken pains to deceive [Patacsil] and to thwart those wishes. Nonetheless, like all Class members, [Patacsil]must own and use a mobile phone—itself an effective prerequisite for modern life—but Google’s deceptive and deliberate actions have thwarted and continue to threaten [Patacsil’s] ability to own such a phone without having his whereabouts constantly tracked, recorded, and used.”

Patascil is seeking to represent two Classes: an Android Class and an iPhone Class comprised of all persons in the U.S. who turned off Location History and whose location information was still recorded and used by Google.

Patacsil is represented by Michael W. Sobol of Leiff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP and Hank Bates of Carney Bates & Pulliam PLLC,

The Google Location Tracking Class Action Lawsuit is Patacsil v. Google Inc., Case No. 3:18-cv-05062, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco/Oakland Division.

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