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Australia’s consumer watchdog sues Google over location data use

Australia’s consumer watchdog on Tuesday announced legal action against Google for allegedly misleading customers about the way it collects and uses personal location data.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission claims Google collected, kept and used “highly sensitive and valuable personal information” of Android phone and tablet users without giving them an informed choice.

The tech giant is accused of making misleading on-screen representations about the location data it was collecting and when certain Google Account settings were enabled or disabled.

ACCC chair Adam Sims said the watchdog was seeking “significant penalties” and for Google to acknowledge its past behaviour was “inappropriate”.

“We’re also alleging that some of the behaviours are continuing,” he told reporters in Sydney. “We want to declarations that the current behaviour should not continue.”

The ACCC says that between 2017 and 2018 Google failed to disclose that both “location history” and “web & app activity” settings needed to be switched off to prevent location data collection.

The Silicon Valley titan allegedly also told customers such data would only be used for their personal use of Google services and did not disclose that it may be used for other unrelated purposes.

Those actions constituted a breach of Australian consumer law, claims the ACCC, which has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court.

A Google spokesperson said the company was reviewing the details of the allegations and would defend itself in court.

The lawsuit stems from an 18-month ACCC inquiry into the power of digital platforms, which resulted in calls for far-reaching new regulations on tech giants.

The watchdog urged tighter controls on the use of personal data and measures to ease Facebook and Google’s dominance of online advertising.

The government is due to announce which of the ACCC recommendations will be implemented by the end of the year.

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