AG Brnovich Sues Google For Gathering User Data And Location Tracking

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is accusing Google of misleading consumers about how and when their personal data and location is collected, and for making it nearly impossible to turn off the tracking systems.

On Wednesday, Brnovich filed a 48-page lawsuit against Google, citing numerous alleged violations of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act.  The legal action seeks an order that Google be forced to give up “all profits, gains, gross receipts, and other benefits” obtained by way of unlawful conduct.

“Google has systematically engaged in activities with a tendency or capacity to deceive consumers,” the lawsuit alleges. “Google’s purpose in engaging in these unlawful practices is simple: increasing revenue and profit.”

The lawsuit contends that $135 billion, or 80 percent of Google’s $161 billion in fiscal year 2019 revenues, came from advertising.

“Google’s advertising revenues are driven by the company’s collection of detailed information about its users, including information about where those users are located,” the lawsuit states. “The location data that Google collects -from any source- adds an enormous amount of value to Google’s advertising offerings.”

Much of that advertising revenue can be tracked to Google’s proprietary products such as Google Maps, Google Playstore, Google Search, YouTube, and Android.  And that, according to Brnovich’s lawsuit, is how Google collects data about a user’s demographics, internet activity, and location, even if a user tries to turn off tracking features.

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Google’s data collection efforts came under attention in 2018 when it was revealed how many ways the company can capture user information. In response, the company provided instructions which supposedly allowed users to shut off such monitoring programs.

However, Brnovich’s lawsuit alleges Google gave users a false sense of privacy and security because users didn’t understand there are tracking programs on an application level, device level, and account level.

“Presumably, the entire point of including various toggles and consents on devices and accounts is to give the user control over the state of their devise and/or account,” the lawsuit states. “However, Google has pushed a variety of updates that automatically change the user’s location settings and defaults without information the user, much less seeking or obtaining consent.”

According to spokesman Ryan Anderson, Brnovich was concerned that Google was willfully misleading Arizona consumers about their privacy, and that if left unchecked, Google could use its data to exert power and influence at the expense of Arizonans.

“Privacy is a priority for the Attorney General,” Anderson said. “He has been focused on the misleading actions by Google in continuing to collect private information to continue to sell ads. Enough is enough.”

Anderson told Arizona Daily Independent that the attorney general did not consult with Gov. Doug Ducey or other top state agency directors before deciding to sue Google. Investigators spent months compiling information about Google’s activities. They also obtained sworn testimony from current and former employees.

And as the lawsuit makes it way toward an expected jury trial in 2022, state attorneys will have access to a vast number of Google’s corporate records and be able to depose additional employees and officers.

Brnovich’s action has left city officials in Mesa wondering what impact the lawsuit will have on Google’s planned $1 billion data center and office complex that is expected to create 100 new fulltime jobs.Last summer, the city council approved a large tax break for Google to join Apple and ATT as tech giants with a presence in Mesa.

The five-year incentive plan requires Google to buy land in the city limits but completion of the first phase of construction doesn’t have to be completed until 2025.

Mesa officials estimated at the time that reducing Google’s tax bill by $16 million over 25 years would generate about $60 million in city tax revenues during the same period.

Earlier this month Google was the subject of nationwide news reports about a federal anti-trust investigation that piggybacked efforts initiated last year by the attorney generals of several states. The anti-trust concerns involve allegations that Google thwarts competition by interconnecting its own technology and products.