EU consumer groups accuse Google of violating GDPR with location history

Mobile

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Location-tracking illustration from Norwegian consumer advocacy organization, Forbrukerrådet.

Characterizing smartphone location awareness as a form of “spying,” consumer groups in seven European countries are filing complaints with their respective data protection regulators against Google. The groups are all part of the BEUC network.

What happened. The groups contend that Google has violated the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in terms of how it captures and uses smartphone location data. Each regulator is empowered to impose significant fines should the complaints be found meritorious. At the center of the complaints is the allegation that Google has not fully disclosed how it collects and uses location data and users have not freely consented to its use.

The BEUC’s press release says Google “uses various tricks and practices to ensure users have [location] features enabled and does not give them straightforward information about what this effectively entails. These unfair practices leave consumers in the dark about the use of their personal data. Additionally they do not give consumers a real choice other than providing their location data, which is then used by the company for a wide range of purposes including targeted advertising. These practices are not compliant with the GDPR.”

The BEUC’s discussion implies deliberate deception on Google’s part, which I think is unwarranted. However, Google has generally not done a good job of educating people about how it captures and uses location, which fuels this suspicion.

BEUC is an umbrella group representing 43 independent consumer organizations

Similar to U.S. controversy. The claims at the center of the EU consumer complaints are identical to those raised not long ago in an AP story in which Google was similarly accused of tracking user location even when location history was turned off, through “Web & App Activity.”

Location is one of the key features of the smartphone, allowing users’ experiences to be tailored

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