Australia’s competition watchdog initiated legal action against Google for allegedly breaching the law by making misleading or false claims to consumers about the personal location data it collects and stores.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court today (29 October) against Google and its local subsidiary (Google Australia) over allegations they breached consumer law when making on-screen representations on Android phones and tablets.

Between January 2017 and late 2018, the agency said the companies misled consumers about the location data collected or used when certain Google account settings were enabled or disabled.

In a statement, ACCC chair Rod Sims said it is taking court action because it believes Google collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers’ location without them making an informed choice.

Settings issue
The case focuses on two Google account settings: location history; and web & app activity. The ACCC alleges it misled consumers by not disclosing that both had to be switched off if users didn’t want data on their whereabouts to be collected.

Sims added many consumers make a conscious decision to turn off settings to stop the collection of their location data, “but we allege Google’s conduct may have prevented consumers from making that choice”.

The ACCC also claims that from around mid-2018 to late 2018, Google suggested the only way to prevent the company from collecting consumers’ data was to stop using some of its services, including Search and Maps. However, it noted this could be achieved by switching off the settings listed above.

Its case is the first lawsuit filed again an internet giant since December 2018, when ACCC proposed a new or existing regulatory body be given the authority to monitor Google and Facebook’s digital platforms to determine the impact their dominance has on the online search and advertising markets.