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Google will pay $392 million to 40 states in the largest-ever U.S. privacy settlement

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Google agreed Monday to settle a landmark privacy case with 40 U.S. states after the search engine giant led users to believe that location tracking had been disabled on their devices.

A statement said it was the largest privacy agreement reached by state authorities in U.S. history and included a binding commitment by Google to improve the information provided.

« Digital platforms like Google cannot claim to provide privacy controls to users, then turn around and ignore those controls to collect and sell data to advertisers against the will of users – and for big profits, » New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said in the statement.

The joint 40-state lawsuit was born out of impatience with the federal government’s inability to crack down on big tech companies amid legislative gridlock in Washington.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers are at odds over the content of the nation’s online privacy rules, and tech companies are lobbying hard to limit their potential impact.

The U.S. case began after a 2018 Associated Press article reported that Google was tracking users even when they declined the practice. Indeed, attorneys general examined Google’s practices from 2014 to 2020, which they said violated state consumer protection laws, which prohibit companies from misleading and deceiving consumers.

The other states affected were Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Specifically, users continued to be tracked when they turned off the location history option on their phones, as tracking continued through a separate Web & App Activity setting.

In a statement, Google said the allegations were based on product features that were out of date.

« Consistent with the improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation that was based on outdated product policies we changed years ago, » the company said.

As part of the settlement, Google will provide more detailed information about tracking activities. 

Last month, Google separately settled a similar location tracking lawsuit with Arizona for $85 million. Google is the subject of other lawsuits filed by Washington, D.C., Indiana and Texas for deceptive location.

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