American corporations are suing Google over location data collection • The Register

The Attorneys General of Indiana, Texas, and Washington DC each filed lawsuits against Google on Monday, alleging that the search giant uses deceptive user interface designs known as “dark patterns” to obtain customer location data without proper consent.

“We lead a non-partisan group of corporations from Texas, Indiana, [and] Washington, both of which are suing in state court to hold Google accountable,” Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement via twitter. “We are trying to stop Google’s illegal use of ‘dark patterns’. [and] Reclaim profits from location data.”

Dark patterns is a term used to describe user interface design intended to evoke a specific response, e.g. B. by making the consent button to share data more visually appealing than the opt-out button. They can be realized by incorporating manipulative digital design elements into web pages and app interfaces to control behavior through the use of colors, button placement, screen layout, text labeling, etc. You can use it as a visual and interactive equivalent to “push survey,” is the careful phrasing of poll questions to elicit a preferred response.

A long-standing concern among advocates of digital rights, governments have recently begun restricting the use of dark patterns. California last year amended the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) to prohibit the use of dark patterns that discourage people from opting out of the sale of their personal information.

Adopted by the US Federal Trade Commission last year a new enforcement policy to discourage the use of dark patterns. Europe’s Digital Services Act (DSA), which is expected to come into force next year, was hit with a dark pattern ban last week. Last month, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers reintroduced the Deceptive Experiences to Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act, a bill that attempted to ban major online platforms from using dark patterns in 2020, but was never matched.

These last three lawsuits against Google allege that the company has a financial incentive to discourage users from denying access to location data because location data is critical to Google’s advertising business.

“Google has engaged and continues to engage in a variety of deceptive and unfair practices to obtain users’ ‘consent’ to be tracked, making it nearly impossible for users to prevent Google from collecting their location data,” the statement reads of the DC States lawsuit filed against Google in Washington [PDF].

“These practices include privacy-violating default location settings, location settings that are difficult to find, misleading descriptions of location settings, repeated nudges to enable location settings, and incomplete disclosures of Google’s collection and processing of location data.”

The Texas Lawsuit [PDF]filed by Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is also a party to a multi-state antitrust complaint against Google’s ad business, suggests that Google’s location data controls in its apps and websites are illusory.

In fact, Google’s claims of giving users ‘control’ and respecting their ‘choice’ largely serve to obscure the reality that regardless of the settings users choose, Google is likely still working hard to accurately track location to collect, store and monetize data users try to stay private.”

The Indiana Lawsuit [PDF]filed by Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita, cites examples of alleged dark patterns, such as “privacy-invading default location settings, hard-to-find location settings, misleading descriptions of location settings, repeated nudges to enable location settings, and incomplete disclosures of Google’s collection and processing of location data .”

All three complaints are based on a Associated Press Release 2018 that Google tracks the locations of Android and iPhone users, regardless of whether they allow or deny location tracking permission. Each covers practices from 2014 and includes several edited passages.

Short-term solution to a legal problem

Jonathan Mayer, an assistant professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University, welcomed the legal challenge to the use of dark patterns, but also raised concerns that existing laws might not be well placed to deal with them.

“I’m glad AGs are adopting dark patterns,” he said via twitter. “But this litigation also highlights the challenge of squeezing dark patterns into current consumer protection law.

Google that on Friday accused AG Paxton of cockiness and filed a motion to dismiss Texas’ antitrust complaint against its advertising business, which was also pushed against this latest trio of lawsuits.

“The Attorneys General are bringing a case based on inaccurate claims and outdated claims about our settings,” said Google spokesman José Castañeda The registry. “We’ve always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We will defend ourselves vigorously and set the record straight.”

Google’s statement contained summaries of various improvements made to the location data settings of Google applications in recent years, with the proviso that these passages are not quoted directly but are paraphrased. The implication is that the AGs’ claims have been addressed, at least in part, by recent product updates.

If Google did indeed reverse some or all of the alleged dark patterns, the courts hearing those cases still need to determine whether Google benefited from unlawfully coerced location data in a past period and whether the AGs have the right to reclaim the location. based on advertising revenue during this period. ®

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