Google was hit with a class action lawsuit claiming privacy violations via Android apps. The plaintiffs allege that Google misleads users with false impressions of control over their data.
The lawsuit alleges that Google’s privacy controls are fake and that Google is illegally intercepting and selling private information.
The plaintiffs also claim that Google’s privacy controls do not stop Google from harvesting and selling sensitive online activity information.
The lawsuit presents what it describes as evidence that Google continues to access private information regardless of privacy settings.
The full description of the lawsuit is:
CLASS ACTION FOR
(1) FEDERAL WIRETAP VIOLATIONS, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510, ET. SEQ.;
(2) INVASION OF PRIVACY ACT VIOLATIONS, CAL. PENAL CODE §§ 631 & 632;
(3) INVASION OF PRIVACY;
(4) COMPREHENSIVE COMPUTER DATA ACCESS AND FRAUD ACT, CAL. PENAL CODE § 502.
Google’s Privacy Controls Alleged to be Lies
The lawsuit claims that the privacy controls that Google provides are a deceit. It claims that Google’s privacy controls do not stop Google from collecting data, regardless of what choices consumers make.
“Google’s privacy promises and assurances are blatant lies.
…Google in fact intercepts, tracks, collects and sells consumer mobile app browsing history and activity data regardless of what safeguards or “privacy settings” consumers undertake to protect their privacy.”
How Google Leverages Apps to Violate User Privacy
The plaintiffs state in their complaint that third party Android apps are required to use Google’s Firebase SDK (software development kit) in order to participate in Google’s other services like their advertising platform, promotion on Google Play and Google Analytics.
They claim that the Firebase SDK allows Google to “intercept” the app activity. They say that this app activity data can reveal who you date, where you eat, what sites you have visited, what your hobbies are, and where you vacationed.
The lawsuit says that this trove of information about a person not only is a privacy violation but poses a danger to individual personal security because a bad actor such as a criminal or rogue government entity could access that information.
“Google’s practices infringe upon consumers’ privacy; intentionally deceive consumers; give Google and its employees power to learn intimate details about individuals’ lives, interests, and app usage; and make Google a potential target for “one-stop shopping” by any government, private, or criminal actor who wants to undermine individuals’ privacy, security, or freedom.”
The lawsuit claims that the level of surveillance is beyond anything George Orwell ever imagined:
“Google has made itself an unaccountable trove of information so detailed and expansive that George Orwell himself could not have imagined it.”
“When you use our services, you’re trusting us with your information. We understand this is a big responsibility and work hard to protect your information and put you in control.
… [A]cross our services, you can adjust your privacy settings to control what we collect and how your information is used.”
The lawsuit alleges that the above promise to allow consumers to control their promise is not truthful.
“Google in fact intercepts, tracks, collects and sells consumer mobile app browsing history and activity data regardless of what safeguards or “privacy settings” consumers undertake to protect their privacy.”
Google Violates Privacy Via Third Party Apps?
The complaint alleges that an Android user cannot avoid being spied on by Google. It states that third party apps enable Google to pry into a users most private and intimate information.
Lawsuit Compares Google to a Voyeur
The lawsuit uses the word Voyeur to describe Google.
Voyeur is a strong word to use.
A voyeur is a person who derives illicit pleasure from violating the privacy of others.
The lawsuit alleges that Google derives illicit treasure from violating the privacy of others.
It claims that Google enriches itself by collecting and selling the private and sensitive information of everyone who uses an Android app while presenting a facade of privacy to users.
Lawsuit Presents Evidence
The plaintiffs say that even though Google promises to not harvest information, they present what they believe is evidence that Google still collects and warehouses that information.
They say present that Google’s DV360 service is proof that Google is harvesting and commodifying hyper-personalized information for the benefit of marketers.
Google DV360 is a reference to Google Display & Video 360. Google states that the program grants access to user information that was harvested by Google and third parties.
This is how Google describes the reach and scale of user information Google is selling:
“The audience profile analysis lets you understand the composition of your selected audience based on its overlap with all other audiences in Display & Video 360 (e.g. Google data, Partner data, and other datasets you have access to).
Use the Geographic distribution analysis tool to quickly assess where your most qualified users are (within a specific country, region, DMA, or postal code), then optimize targeting settings for your campaign accordingly.”
Google’s Privacy Issue
Google’s business model has been under attack for privacy violation issues for years, primarily in Europe. This is in addition to investigations related to abuse of monopolistic advantages.
It’s clear that privacy is an important concern around the world. How browsers handle third party cookies is already undermining Google’s ability to track users around the web.
This is an important lawsuit. How it plays out may have an effect on Google’s reach into the private corners of Internet users.
Read the full text of the class action lawsuit:
Rodriguez versus Google (PDF)