New lawsuit against Google over location data

The year is less than a month old and a clear trend is emerging for Google: the search giant faces many legal and legislative challenges in 2022.

The Latest: Karl Racine, Washington, DC, Attorney General, is suing Google today for “deceptive and unfair practices” the company uses to obtain location data from consumers.

According to The Washington Post, the lawsuit is also expected to be filed in three other states (Texas, Washington and Indiana).

Like last week’s advertising policing legislation, this appears to be another move aimed at reining in Google.

Why we care. Location data is incredibly important to Google — and it helps provide valuable context in two ways that impact marketers: organic local search results and Google Ads targeting. When someone is searching for a business and that business is located near that searcher, showing up in local search results is essential to converting the search into real actions (e.g. store visits, sales). On the PPC side, Google Ads has location targeting to help you show the right ads to the right customer, in the right place, at the right time.

Why Google is being sued. Google benefits from the data of its users. I know, I know…breaking news about the dog bites man strain in 2022. But let’s get to the heart of this new lawsuit:

Location data is some of the most sensitive information Google collects from consumers. Even a limited amount of such data, collected over time, can reveal a person’s identity and routines. Location can also be used to infer personal details such as political or religious affiliation, sexual orientation, income, health status or participation in support groups, as well as significant life events such as marriage, divorce, and the birth of children.

Location data is even more powerful in the hands of Google, a company that, due to the near-ubiquity of Google products in consumers’ pockets, homes, and workplaces—essentially everywhere consumers go—has an unparalleled ability to shape their daily lives monitor consumers. Google’s technologies allow the company to analyze massive amounts of location data from billions of people and derive insights consumers may not even know are being revealed. Google uses this window into consumers’ lives to sell ads that are targeted to consumers based on personally identifiable information Google has about them, including their demographics, habits and interests.

Dark patterns. The lawsuit alleges that Google uses “dark patterns” (specifically: “repeated nudges, deceptive squeezing tactics, and evasive and misleading descriptions of location features and settings”) to give out more location data. Dark patterns are essentially “tricks” that a website or app can incorporate into its design that trick a user into doing something they normally wouldn’t do.

You can read the full lawsuit (PDF) here.

Google & manage location history. Google has a whole page dedicated to this topic called Manage Your Location History. In short, this page tells you how to turn your location history on or off and how to delete your location history. Google encourages users to keep Location History turned on because it offers benefits like “personalized maps, recommendations based on places you’ve visited, help finding your phone, real-time traffic information about your commute, and more useful ads.”

Location History is opt-in. Last year, Google announced that it would automatically delete location history after 18 months.

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About the author

Danny Goodwin is Senior Editor of Search Engine Land. Goodwin not only writes about SEO, PPC and more for Search Engine Land on a daily basis, but also maintains Search Engine Land’s roster of subject matter experts. He also helps with the programming of our conference series SMX – Search Marketing Expo. Before joining Search Engine Land, Goodwin was Executive Editor at Search Engine Journal, where he led editorial initiatives for the brand. He was also a contributing editor at Search Engine Watch. He has spoken at many major search conferences and virtual events, and has been featured in a variety of publications and podcasts for his expertise.


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