Undisclosed documents recently discovered in Arizona’s fraudulent lawsuit against Google show that the company’s employees knew each other and argued that the company’s privacy settings were faulty and possibly misleading.
In 2018, the Associated Press reported that Maps and some other Google services (via iPhone and Android) store users’ location data even when users have explicitly turned off location history.
A Google spokesperson told the AP at the time: “Google can use location in a number of ways to improve the user experience, including location history, web activity and applications.” and device-based location services “.” We provide clear descriptions of these tools and perform powerful controls so that users can turn them on or off and delete their history at any time. ”
Arizona Attorney General Mark Bernovic began his investigation following a report from the Palestinian Authority, and in May 2020 the state sued Google, alleging that the company had violated the fraud law. at Arizona Consumer.
According to the Arizona Mirror, the original claim was vigorously rejected. But following an August 3 trial by digital content business groups and News Media Union, the judge ruled that several documents related to the case had not been released and that a more recent version of the case was now available.
The new version of the lawsuit (PDF) includes a series of employee emails and chat logs in which Google employees agreed with the AP story, and these employees highlighted their frustrations with the setup. Strengths:
- “The current UI feels like it is designed to make things possible, yet difficult enough that people won’t figure it out.”
- “Some people (including even Googlers) don’t know that there is a global switch and a per-device switch.”
- “Indeed we aren’t very good at explaining this to users. Add me to the list of Googlers who didn’t understand how this worked and was surprised when I read the article … we shipped a UI that confuses users.”
- “I agree with the article. Location off should mean location off, not except for this case or that case.”
“In the case of location information, we’ve heard the feedback, and have worked hard to improve our privacy controls,” a Google spokesman told the Mirror. “In fact, even these cherry-picked published extracts state clearly that the team’s goal was to ‘Reduce confusion around Location History Settings.'”
The lawsuit also provides interesting information on Google’s response to growing news about the company. “The day the AP story was published,” the newspaper said, “Google said,“ Google entered a state of crisis and held its “Oh Sheet” meetings in response to this story. ”
The company’s communications team publishes Daily Reports (PDF) after the AP airs, tracking how stories about the AP bomb are spreading and following what social media has to say about it. story with a significant impact.
In a one-day report, one day was reported as “100% negative”, with 93% of articles containing “user dissatisfaction / creep factor”, 51% reporting “misleading controls” and 32% of article reports. The report ends with information on how customers can opt-out or manage their data.
“We are seeing a growing narrative reminiscent of FTC / Congress action through third-party comments (influencing policy),” the report said, citing stories from CNET, Vanity Fair, and Wired. “It will probably continue throughout the week.”