Court says AG has enough information for case against Google

Judge says Arizona officials have spent too long demanding new evidence

By: - December 22, 2021 3:39 pm

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

An Arizona judge says that the state has collected more than enough material from tech behemoth Google and it’s time to move onto a trial over the company’s privacy policy.

Eleven months after he first said the state’s case could move to a trial, Judge Timothy Thomason said last week that the state needs to quit asking for even more documents from Google, a process known as discovery.

“This Court has concern that no amount of discovery is going to be sufficient for the State and that the State will always want more,” he wrote. “Common sense has arguably gone by the wayside.”

The case, filed early last year, is part of a larger investigation by the Arizona attorney general that has been going on since at least 2018, after an Associated Press article revealed certain Google applications store location data without asking, and that deleting the 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.

In January, the judge denied the state’s request to issue a judgement against Google without a trial, saying it should go before jurors. But that process has been slow.

Both Google and the AG agreed to a “special discovery master,” or SDM, an outside person who would oversee the discovery process and settle any disputes. The state has been appealing many of the SDM’s rulings over what the state sees as unfair treatment, according to the ruling.

During the discovery process under the SDM, the state has had 30 hours of witness depositions and over 200,000 pages of documents have been produced, the court ruling noted.

“The SDM, a seasoned jurist and completely impartial, has grown weary of the State’s complaints,” the judge wrote. “In May, the SDM found that the State engaged in ‘gamesmanship.’ The SDM has found many of the State’s complaints to be without merit.”

According to last week’s ruling, Google provided the state during its investigation “over 140 pages of written discovery and 54 hours of deposition testimony” and documents from 13 people.

The initial lawsuit filed by the AG had 270 exhibits, of which only a small portion have been made public. Some of those documents have shed light on certain issues such as Google’s own engineers being confused by their privacy settings and how Google’s apps shared location information with other applications.

However, the judge said that the amount of discovery for the case was already sufficient and the state had already made its case, especially since the state had begun to look for documents from other sources.

One case in particular has to do with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which has already sought documents from the Arizona case in its inquiry into Google.

“The Court has reviewed the categories of information produced and finds that Google has complied with any obligation it may have to produce material for the ACCC matter,” the court said in its ruling, saying that Google has already provided material from that case to the state.

The company just recently committed $740 million to Australia shortly after one of Google’s managing directors threatened to block the search engine in the country in response to tougher government regulation. The money is planned to help in aiding in expanding things such as cloud computing infrastructure and helping with scientific research in the country.

“Arizona has been a leader on this issue, being the first state to file a consumer fraud lawsuit against Google. We are confident in our case and look forward to trial,”  Katie Conner, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement to the Arizona Mirror. “At this time, we are going to decline to comment further on the Australia case.”

Google declined to comment.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.