Google 'confused' users with privacy settings, its own employees admit
Much like Facebook, Google is also heavy on tracking the web activity and location data of its users for advertising purposes. Although the company offers granular controls for deciding what should and should not be tracked, but many people have argued that these options are way too confusing. Now, in a major development, even Google's own employees have admitted the same. Here's more.
First, a little background on the matter
Back in May, Arizona's Attorney General Mark Brnovich's office had filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming that the internet giant fraudulently tracks its users' locations to enrich its advertising business. It alleged that the company has configured the privacy settings in such a way that users are led to believe that location data tracking is turned off, even when that is not the case.
Testimonies from Google employees backed the lawsuit
On Friday, a new version of the lawsuit with unredacted sections was made public. In that filing, employees at Google acknowledged that the company's design choices for privacy settings made it difficult for users to truly opt-out of location tracking. "The current [UI] feels like it is designed to make things possible, yet difficult enough that people won't figure it out," one employee stated.
Definitely confusing for users, said another employee
"Definitely confusing from a user point of view if we need Googlers [to] explain it to us," another employee was quoted as saying in the suit, which was first reported by Arizona Mirror.
Case stems from an Associated Press article
The lawsuit accuses Google of violating users' privacy and breaking Arizona consumer-protection laws that prohibit companies from misrepresenting their business practices. Notably, it stems from an Associated Press report from 2018 that first found Google was collecting users' locations through its products, even when they had turned the setting for it off. Back then, Google defended its privacy practices, but employee testimonies suggest otherwise.
Location off should mean location off, said another employee
"I agree with the article," said another Google employee in the suit. "Location off should mean location off, not except for this case or that case," "Speaking as a user, WTF? More specifically I **thought** I had location tracking turned off on my phone," a company engineer claimed, adding: "So our messaging around this is enough to confuse a privacy-focused (person). That's not good."
'Oh Shit' meeting held after AP's report
The latest version of the lawsuit also includes exhibits that show Google held an 'Oh shit' meeting after the AP report to discuss its response and possible setting changes to turn location history off from "one single place instead of three." Plus, it also tracked the reach of the story on the internet and characterized the media coverage around the topic as 'negative'.
Google, however, says "we have heard feedback"
In a statement on the lawsuit alleging deception, Google's spokesperson said, "Privacy controls have long been built into our services and our teams work continuously to improve them." "We've heard [the] feedback, and have worked hard to improve our privacy controls," the representative added. "In fact, even these cherry-picked published extracts state that the team's goal was to 'Reduce confusion around Location History Settings'."