‘Mess’ not even Google understand
Not even Google's own software engineers understood the allegedly confusing location data collection settings that Australia's consumer watchdog is suing the advertising giant over, a newly released lawsuit claims.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) previously announced it would take Google to court over location data it allegedly continued collecting even after people thought they'd told the company to stop.
Now unsealed court documents relating to a case in the US state of Arizona have shed new light on the location settings.
Some of the documents show allegations by the Arizona government, set out in the suit's table of contents, that the company knew its location settings were a "mess that mislead and deceives".
Central to that allegation are emails between Google employees (referring to themselves as "Googlers") who admit not even they can understand the settings.
The lawsuit details a long list of different settings that it alleges "misleads and deceives users of Google's products into believing that they are not sharing location information when they actually are".
"The current [user interface] feels like it is designed to make things possible, yet difficult enough that people won't figure it out," one "Googler" wrote to others in a message included in the newly released documents.
"Some people (including even Googlers) don't know that there is a global switch and a per-device switch," wrote another.
"We aren't very good at explaining this to users. Add me to the list of Googlers who didn't understand how this worked and was surprised when I read the article … we shipped a [user interface] that confuses users," wrote another.
The article they referred to was an Associated Press piece from 2018, which reported location data was being collected when users thought it wasn't.
Its headline: Google tracks your movements, like it or not, sent the company into damage control.
Rather than targeting every US resident with warning signs on the platforms Google uses to collect their data and sell their attention to advertisers like it did in Australia, the lawsuit alleges the company started putting together more data.
"Google turned into crisis-mode and held a self-styled 'Oh Sh*t' meeting in reaction to the story," the lawsuit alleges.
It also alleges the company "closely monitored the AP story in a detailed media report which tracked, among other statistics, the volume of mentions of the story on social media, hour-by-hour mentions, the list of media covering the story, and even tweets from specific individuals like politicians and reporters".
The lawsuit says the company then removed from its help page a claim that "with location history off, the places you go are no longer stored".
"In other words, Google attempted to 'fix' this particular deception only when it was caught," the lawsuit alleges.
Originally published as 'Mess' not even Google understand