Attorneys general sue Google over location marketing practices

There's sinister talk of "dark patterns" used by Google to track users and improve Google ad performance.

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The attorneys general for D.C., Indiana, Texas and Washington have sued Google for the “deceptive and unfair practices” the company uses to obtain consumer location data. It’s a bipartisan lawsuit with both Democratic and Republican attorneys general joining.

Dark patterns. The lawsuit accuses Google of using “dark patterns” (specifically: “repeated nudging, misleading pressure tactics, and evasive and deceptive descriptions of location features and settings”) to hand over more location data. Dark patterns are essentially “tricks” that a website or app can include as part of its design that make a user do something they might otherwise not choose to do.

Why we care. Location data is among the most sensitive information Google collects from consumers. Even a limited amount of such data, gathered over time, can expose 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 major 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 has an unprecedented ability to monitor consumers’ daily lives due to the near ubiquity of Google products in consumers’ pockets, homes, and workplaces—essentially everywhere consumers go. Google’s technologies allow it to analyze massive amounts of location data from billions of people, and to derive insights that consumers may not even realize they revealed. Google uses this window into consumers’ lives to sell advertising that is targeted to consumers according to personal details Google has learned about them, including their demographics, habits, and interests.

Google & Managing Location History. Google has an entire page dedicated to this topic, titled Manage your Location History. In short, this page tells you how to turn your location history on or off and delete your location history. Google encourages users to keep Location History on because it offers benefits such as “personalized maps, recommendations based on places you’ve visited, help finding your phone, real-time traffic updates about your commute, and more useful ads.” That’s the all-important value exchange — but it really has to be high value if a tech giant is going to know where you are.

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About the author

Danny Goodwin
Danny Goodwin is Senior Editor of Search Engine Land. In addition to writing daily about SEO, PPC, and more for Search Engine Land, Goodwin also manages Search Engine Land’s roster of subject-matter experts. He also helps program our conference series, SMX – Search Marketing Expo. Prior to joining Search Engine Land, Goodwin was Executive Editor at Search Engine Journal, where he led editorial initiatives for the brand. He also was an editor at Search Engine Watch. He has spoken at many major search conferences and virtual events, and has been sourced for his expertise by a wide range of publications and podcasts.

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