Court Documents Reveal That Google Made Location Tracking on Android Nearly Impossible to Disable

Written by Bill Toulas
Last updated September 25, 2021

A lawsuit launched by Arizona Attorney General’s office against Google last year has resulted in the publication of some documents that showcase the tech giant’s averse to user data privacy. More specifically, the documents describe a system of obscuring the privacy settings on Android, confusing app developers as to how they are supposed to implement the settings for the users, ending up having location data collected and shared with the advertising network even when the user was actively trying to stop it.

In fact, the system was so confusing on purpose that Google’s own execs repeatedly expressed bewilderment in regards to how location data privacy settings work on Android. Former vice president of prestigious projects like Google Maps even admitted that the only way to avoid this tracking is simply to lie to Google by setting false location points as your home, work address, etc. The documents also characteristically reveal that Jen Chai, Google’s Senior Product Manager in charge of location services, had a poor understanding of how privacy settings on Android interacted with each other.

To make it even worse, there’s a mention about LG and the fact that Google was instructing the smartphone vendor and one of their Android partners to hide the privacy settings that were too popular with users. By hiding them, Google hoped that users would give up trying to disable access to user data.

This is truly absurd, and it also burdens the now-defunct LG Mobile, who appear to have complied with these requests. The settings were still there but buried deeply in setting menus, so Google was still legally covered to claim that “users have a choice to disable tracking.”

This hasn’t left Android users free of frustration, though, and the mobile OS gradually built a reputation for being a data-sucking black hole, so the repercussions of this unethical approach were never mitigated. If it weren’t for Apple taking bold steps forward with iOS 14 on the matter of privacy, Google wouldn’t be “forced” to take action and finally promise to give users power over their data. Still, the two cannot compare since right now, there’s no way to agree to give an app your location data without this, meaning that Google will have access to it.

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