TRENTON – New Jersey will receive around $17.8 million from Google as part of the settlement of a multistate investigation into whether the search engine company misled consumers about how it collects and uses location data.

All told, Google will pay $391.5 million to 40 states in what is the largest-ever multistate privacy settlement with state attorneys general.

Google uses location data to sell digital ads, as part of building user profiles for targeted ads.

But the states said that by tracking consumers’ locations using details from a device such as its GPS, cell tower, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals, Google can track a consumer’s location outside and inside buildings, exposing their identity and routines and inferring personal details about them.

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“Digital platforms like Google cannot claim to provide privacy controls to users then turn around and disregard those controls to collect and sell data to advertisers against users’ express wishes—and at great profit.” said state Attorney General Matthew Platkin.

“When online platforms violate consumers’ right to privacy, they put their users at risk,” Platkin said. “This settlement holds Google accountable for its misleading conduct and requires the company to make meaningful changes to its business practices to ensure consumers’ privacy rights are respected and protected.”

The states began investigating Google after a 2018 article by the Associated Press detailed that even when the ‘location history’ account setting is turned off, which is its default, a separate ‘web and app activity’ setting is automatically on when a Google account is created.

The states allege that Google violated consumer protection laws since at least 2014 by misleading consumers about whether their location information was collected and how to limit that.

“When an online company promises consumers privacy, we expect them to make good on that promise,” said Cari Fais, acting director of the state Division of Consumer Affairs. “Google’s privacy controls did not stop Google from collecting data, regardless of what choices consumers made, a clear and egregious violation of their own business model and our consumer protection laws.”

The state did not say what it will do with its share of the settlement. Some can go toward attorneys' fess and the cost of the investigation or a consumer protection law enforcement fund, though it is not limited to those options.

Google agreed to:

  • Show additional information to users whenever they turn an account setting on or off and make those account controls more user-friendly
  • Clearly and conspicuously disclose information about location tracking to users
  • Create an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage where users can get details about the location data Google collects and how it’s used
  • Limit how it uses and stores certain types of location information

The Attorney General’s Office said New Jersey was among the 10 states that led the negotiations that settled the case.

The states that did not participate in the settlement were Arizona, California, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Arizona filed the first state action against Google in 2020. That case was settled last month for $85 million.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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