Arizona AG sues Google for consumer fraud over cell phone tracking




Photo by meneame comunicacions | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

In a heavily redacted court filing Wednesday, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich claimed that Google has violated Arizona’s Consumer Fraud Act in the way it gathers location data, and he is asking the tech giant to pay millions of dollars in fines and restitution.

“The tactics Google deploys to surveil its users’ locations – including users in Arizona – include willfully deceptive and unfair acts and practices within the meaning of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act,” the 48-page complaint says.  

The Attorney General’s Office began investigating Google after an Associated Press article in 2018. 

AP reported that, even with location history paused, certain Google applications still store location data without asking, and deleting that data is a time-intensive process. AP found that Google Maps, for example, creates a snapshot of where users are whenever they open the application, even with location history turned off. 

“[T]he AGO’s pre-suit investigation has been prejudiced by Google’s uncooperative conduct, delay tactics, and general failure to comply with the AGO’s discovery demands,” the filing says. “Even so, the AGO’s investigation to date has uncovered and confirmed the wrongdoing alleged herein.” 

The suit is asking that Google give up any profits they made using these means in Arizona, pay restitution to Arizona residents, pay $10,000 for each violation, pay for the cost of the AG’s investigation and be permanently prohibited from conducting similar conduct in the future. 

In a statement, Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said Brnovich has “mischaracterized our services.”

“We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We look forward to setting the record straight,” Castaneda said.

The redactions in the lawsuit are testimony from Google employees, as well as internal documents obtained by the AG’s nearly two-year investigation, spokesman Ryan Anderson told the Arizona Mirror. 

Google contended that the information was confidential and so it was redacted in the filing, though Anderson said the AG’s office plans to make as much of it public as possible. 

Brnovich is demanding a jury trial. 

“We are taking on a heavy weight, and that’s not lost on us,” Anderson said, adding that the AG’s office has previously sued companies like Theranos and Volkswagen under the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act. 

Arizona was the only state to receive money directly from Volkswagen, which was found to have been tampering with equipment on their vehicles allowing them to pass emissions tests.  

“Google lulled consumers into a false sense of security into making a user believe they had turned off their location history,” Anderson said. “The core of our lawsuit is this premise of you can’t tell consumers one thing then do another.”

Along with the initial filing, the AG’s office also filed a list of exhibits, many of which are currently sealed. 

There are 270 exhibits filed, with the majority of them being “intentionally omitted” as the “document proposed to be filed under seal.”