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Google Faces Lawsuit Over Location Sharing

Google's location-tracking practices may land the tech giant in hot water legally, as the company is now facing a lawsuit as well as increased scrutiny from Washington.

Following reports last week that Google was still tracking the movements of users even after they turned off the Location History feature, a San Diego man has filed a lawsuit against the company.

In the suit, reported on by Ars Technica, user Napoleon Patacsil alleges that Google violated both the California Invasion of Privacy Act and the state's constitutional right to privacy when it continued to access and store geolocation information even after he set Location History to off on both his iPhone and Android device.

The suit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, is seeking class action status, potentially meaning other Android and iOS users could join in on the case. The suit is asking the court for injunctive relief as well as unspecified damages.

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Google's location tracking tactics came under scrutiny last week after an Associated Press report found that Google continued to log time-stamped information about user locations even after users specifically turned off that feature. The AP report was based on testing conducted by a Princeton University data researcher. Google says it uses that information to improve user experience. (You can put a stop to that kind of data collection by turning off Web & App Activity, as we detail in this tutorial on stopping Google location tracking.)

Since the AP's initial report, Google has amended its support page to be more upfront about what data it's collecting even after Location History is turned off. According to the updated page, Location History doesn't effect Google Location Services and Find My Device, and that some location data may be saved when you uses services like Maps and Search.

That revision doesn't seem like it's going to satisfy critics of Google's practices. (In fact, the lawsuit specifically calls out Google's updated Location History help page.) In the wake of AP's report, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called for the Federal Trade Commission to look into the company's privacy practices. Blumenthal and another senator, Edward Markey (D-Mass.) had asked for an FTC probe into how Google tracks locations earlier this year, according to the Washington Post.

Google and the FTC reached a settlement in 2011 over the company's privacy practices in the wake of its launch the since-shuttered Google Buzz social network. As part of that settlement, Google was barred from "future privacy misrepresentations" and required to implement a privacy program that could be reviewed over the next 20 years.