To borrow an ominous phrase from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Google has been crossing “the creepy line” for some time now — that is, it’s been engaging in spying and data collection practices that its users would be extremely uncomfortable with if they were aware of them.
Bulk data collection and sale of user data to the highest bidder is just one of the many shady practices that Big Tech has been involved in, and it is arguably the single most destructive. After all, if companies like Google are silently collecting reams of private data on millions of unsuspecting users, and if those companies also have extensive ties to intelligence agencies — as Google does — then such behavior could potentially usher in a horrendously Orwellian surveillance state.
Governments around the world have been slow to reign in Google and the other tech giants for their abuses, but Australia has been at the forefront of such efforts.
Australia passed a law requiring tech firms like Google to compensate news organizations for any links it shares to stories that those organizations have written, a law which is so wide-ranging that Google has threatened to withdraw its services from Australia entirely.
And now, an Australian court has ruled that Google has misled its Australian users about the nature of their location data collection policies.
Australia Brings Down the Hammer
In the case in question, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took Google to court, alleging that certain on-screen representations that the company made to users on Android phones were misleading.
Specifically, the case revolves around two settings affecting location data collection by the Google app: location history and web & app activity. Even if users disable the “location history” setting, Google still collects location data on Android users who have the “web & app activity” setting enabled. The ACCC charged that Google misled its user base by doing this.
Justice Thomas Thawley, who presided over the case, ultimately ruled against Google. The penalty for this violation has yet to be decided, but it could potentially be a fine of as much as $1.1 million per violation.
In his judgment, Justice Thawley said, “I am satisfied that Google’s conduct assessed as a whole was misleading or deceptive of, or likely to mislead or deceive, ordinary members within the class identified by the ACCC, acting reasonably.”
Rod Sims, the chair of the ACCC, said that he was seeking a penalty in the “many millions” to be imposed on Google.
A Google spokesman, on the other hand, said that it is “currently reviewing options, including a possible appeal.”