Australian regulator files privacy suit against Google alleging location data misuse

An Australian regulator accused Google of misleading smartphone users about how it collected and used personal location data. (AFP)
Updated 29 October 2019

Australian regulator files privacy suit against Google alleging location data misuse

  • ‘Google’s conduct caused users to understand that personal data about their location was not being obtained’
  • ‘The misleading information provided by Google meant that users were not able to make an informed choice’

SYDNEY: An Australian regulator has filed a lawsuit against Alphabet Inc’s Google, accusing it of misleading smartphone users about how it collected and used personal location data, advancing a global crackdown on the world’s biggest tech firms.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said the local Google unit did not tell users of its Android operating system for almost two years that they needed to switch off two settings — not one — if they did not want the company to keep their information.
“Google’s conduct caused users to understand that personal data about their location was not being obtained ... by Google when in fact personal data was being obtained,” the ACCC wrote in a Federal Court filing on Tuesday, which it published on its website.
“The misleading information provided by Google meant that users were not able to make an informed choice.”
The lawsuit is the first of several the ACCC said it would pursue against the local arms of global technology companies like Google and social media firm Facebook when it called for tougher laws concerning privacy and content-sharing.
Already European Union countries have seized on the bloc’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules to rein in big technology companies. In January, a French regulator fined Google €50 million ($55.5 million) for breaches of privacy laws.
Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner is also investigating Google over a complaint alleging breach of privacy laws, while Facebook agreed in July to a record-breaking $5 billion fine in the United States to resolve privacy concerns dating back to its use of people’s data in the 2016 presidential election.
The Australian lawsuit against Google is seeking unspecified penalties and orders requiring the publication of corrective notices by Google, the ACCC said.
The Australian regulator said in its lawsuit that Google failed to make clear that people should turn off two location-based settings, “Location History” and “Web & App Activity,” to stop the company collecting and using data from either.
Google further misled consumers — and breached Australian consumer law — by telling them the only way to prevent the company from collecting their location data was to stop using its main services like Google Search and Google Maps, the regulator said.
“As a result of these on-screen representations, Google has collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers’ location without them making an informed choice,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in a statement.
“Many consumers make a conscious decision to turn off settings to stop the collection of their location data, but we allege that Google’s conduct may have prevented consumers from making that choice.”
A representative for Google in Australia did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The matter is scheduled for a case management hearing on Nov. 14, according to the Federal Court website.


Chinese TV pulls Arsenal match after Ozil’s Uighur comments

Updated 15 December 2019

Chinese TV pulls Arsenal match after Ozil’s Uighur comments

BEIJING: Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has pulled a game between Arsenal and Manchester City from its program after the Gunners midfielder Mesut Ozil expressed support for Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Ozil, a German of Turkish origin, condemned China’s crackdown on Muslim minorities in the western region in a tweet on Friday, while criticizing Muslim countries for failing to speak up against abuses.
Sunday’s Premier League game in London between Arsenal and Manchester City was initially scheduled to be broadcast live by CCTV’s sports channel shortly after midnight on Monday, according to a schedule published earlier on the league’s official Weibo account.
However, by Sunday CCTV replaced the match on its schedule with a pre-recorded game between Tottenham and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“Qur'ans are being burnt... Mosques are being shut down ... Muslim schools are being banned ... Religious scholars are being killed one by one ... Brothers are forcefully being sent to camps,” Ozil wrote in Turkish on his Twitter account Friday.
“The Muslims are silent. Their voice is not heard,” he wrote on a background of a blue field with a white crescent moon, the flag of what Uighur separatists call East Turkestan.
China has faced growing international condemnation for setting up a vast network of camps in Xinjiang aimed at homogenizing the Uighur population to reflect China’s majority Han culture.
Rights groups and experts say more than one million Uighurs and people of other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been rounded up in the camps in the tightly controlled region.
After initially denying the camps existed, China now describes them as vocational schools aimed at dampening the allure of Islamist extremism and violence.
Arsenal on Saturday distanced itself from Ozil’s comments, saying it has “always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”
Ozil’s comments drew anger online, with some users on Weibo calling for a ban on his games.
Nationalist tabloid Global Times called Ozil’s comments “false” and said in a tweet on Sunday that he had “disappointed Chinese fans and football governing authorities.”
The cancelation prompted further criticism of Ozil, including from Arsenal fans.
“If it hadn’t been for Arsenal’s Ozil making trouble out of nothing, would the broadcast of the entire team’s match have been blocked in China?” one user asked on Sunday.
“(Ozil) published inappropriate comments on foreign social media that would greatly hurt the feelings of Chinese fans,” another user said.
Arsenal is the latest foreign team to face the ire of Chinese broadcasters and audiences due to a player’s political stance.
The NBA in October sparked a backlash in China after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.
In response, CCTV canceled its broadcasts of two NBA pre-season games in China, and the Rockets have been absent from CCTV and Internet giant Tencent’s programming schedule so far this season.