Why the ACCC versus Google case is a hollow victory


The Australian Federal Court has found in the ACCC versus Google case that Google misled consumers about personal location data collected through Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018.

The ACCC versus Google case (release here) is a world-first enforcement action brought by the ACCC.

This is an important victory for consumers, especially anyone concerned about their privacy online. The Court’s decision sends a strong message to Google and others that big businesses must not mislead their customers. The decision is an important step to make sure digital platforms are upfront with consumers about what is happening with their data and what they can do to protect it.”

ACCC Chair Rod Sims
ACCC versus Google case
We love you Rod – peoples crusader

ACCC versus Google case was about misrepresentation – not privacy

Consumers relied on Google’s implication that they just had to turn off ‘Location History’ for Google not to track them. But another somewhat benign setting, ‘Web & App Activity’, also enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data by default.

Had Google made it clear that two settings must be off – there would have been no case against it.

But there is a catch

Web & App Activity is now part of the Google Account settings – it is not on the phone. You need to access your Google Account via a browser and select the Data and Personalisation tab.

Here you are advised that data saved in your account helps to give you a more personalised experience across all Google Services. And yes, it is on by default.

A warning that turning it off may affect some Google (including Google Assistant) and third-party services (undefined) is given. It is usually enough for people to leave the default settings as is.

Feel free to turn as off much as you like. But remember some settings can affect Google Assistant, and location is the biggie.

GadgetGuy’s take

The insignificance of the ACCC versus Google victory

The ACCC is the consumer’s protector – we need it. The win was about misleading conduct (saying one thing and doing another), not privacy. The ACCC does not have the power to address that. So it is a hollow victory. Sorry, I am not taking away from the win – but it is not getting to the root of the problem.

Google Android still has the same settings, and they are on by default. It merely explains that turning them off may affect phone use and has given you more control over privacy in your Google Account. The only problem is that most never access the account and tweak privacy settings – you should.

It is not a win for privacy which Gadget Guy reminds you is the single greatest issue facing humanity. Until we get universal and enforceable privacy legislation, big and small tech et al., will continue to operate on the basis that it is not illegal to collect your data and monetise it.

Read our article ‘All apps spy on you by default’ here.