Attorney General Ellison reaches historic settlement with Google over location-tracking practices

Joins 40 AGs in bipartisan national settlement worth almost $400M; Minnesota’s share $8.25M

Largest privacy settlement ever reached by AGs also requires more Google be more transparent with consumers

November 14, 2022 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today announced that he and a bipartisan coalition of 40 attorneys general have reached a $391.5 million multistate settlement with Google over its location-tracking practices relating to Google Account settings. This is the largest multistate privacy settlement that attorneys general have ever reached. Minnesota will receive $8,251,975.29 from the settlement.  

“Big Tech companies need to be clear with us about when they’re collecting our location data and what they’re using for. They shouldn’t be able to collect it when we’ve told them not to. But this is what Google did,” Attorney General Ellison said. “Consumers should be able to control whether their online information — including their exact locations — are tracked and monetized. Minnesota joined a bipartisan coalition of 40 states to investigate Google when it became clear they lied to consumers about whether they were tracking consumers’ locations. That was wrong and we couldn’t let it continue, so we took action that resulted in this historic settlement.” 

Location data is a key part of Google’s digital advertising business. Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects to build detailed user profiles and target ads on behalf of its advertising customers. Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects. Even a limited amount of location data can expose a person’s identity and routines and can be used to infer personal details.  

The attorneys general opened the Google investigation following a 2018 Associated Press article that revealed Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.” The article focused on two Google account settings: Location History and Web & App Activity. Location History is “off” unless a user turns on the setting, but Web & App Activity, a separate account setting, is automatically “on” when users set up a Google account, including all Android phone users.  As detailed in the settlement, the attorneys general found that Google violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers about its location tracking practices since at least 2014. Specifically, Google caused users to be confused about the scope of the Location History setting, the fact that the Web & App Activity setting existed and also collected location information, and the extent to which consumers who use Google products and services could limit Google’s location tracking by adjusting their account and device settings.  

The settlement requires Google to be more transparent with consumers about its practices. Google must:  

The settlement also limits Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google account controls to be more user-friendly. 

Joining Attorney General Ellison in the bipartisan settlement are the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenbloom and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson led the settlement negotiations, assisted by the attorneys general of Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.