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Google Could Face a Huge Fine for Collecting Location Data From Users Who Don’t Want to Be Tracked

September 12, 2018, 10:04 AM UTC

Last month the Associated Press reported that Google tracks users’ location even if they have told the company they don’t want to be tracked. This wasn’t the first such report—last year Oracle blew the whistle on how Android phones quietly tell Google where users are located, even if they’ve turned off location services and removed the device’s SIM card—but it’s now sparked a probe in Arizona that could lead to an enormous fine for the company.

According to the Washington Post, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich initiated the probe last month, indicating in a filing that his office would be targeting an unnamed firm over its “storage of consumer location data, tracking of consumer location, and other consumer tracking through…smartphone operating systems, even when consumers turn off ‘location services’ and take other steps to stop such tracking.”

After the AP story broke, the company changed its help page for the location history feature. While it previously claimed that “with Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,” it now says the setting “does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device. Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.”

If the investigation leads to a full-blown consumer protection case under Arizona state law, Google (GOOGL) could theoretically be hit with fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

As the AP report said Google was scooping up location data on Android devices and iPhones bearing the Google Maps app—again, even if users turn off the “location history” feature—that could end up being an awful lot of money.

The AP report also ruffled feathers at the German justice ministry, which last month asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai to clarify exactly what the company does with people’s location data. Officials warned Google that collecting and storing the data despite the “disabling” of location history would “seriously and sustainably damage consumers’ confidence in digital services.”

In response to the Arizona probe, Google told the Post that it collects location data in many ways, including through search queries, in order to provide locally relevant services.