Google labels ACCC's location data privacy claims as 'out of context'

The Australia Federal Court has directed the ACCC to clarify the issues it wants to have settled in court.

In the face of allegations by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that Google mishandled the location data of its users, the search giant stated in Federal Court on Thursday that such claims are "out of context" and do not reflect how Android devices handle location data.

The legal action raised by the ACCC alleges that during 2017 and 2018, Google did not inform Australians that they needed to have the Location History setting within Android, as well as the Web & App Activity setting, disabled to prevent Google from storing location data.

The consumer watchdog is arguing that consumers were led to believe that Location History was the only setting that needed to be switched off.

In response to the allegations, Google's legal counsel on Thursday morning said that information regarding the collection and use of location data is available to users, and that the ACCC's "real case" is that such information must all be on the same screen at the same time. 

Read more: ACCC alleges Google mislead consumers over Android location data handling

"[This could] lead to things slipping around", Google's legal counsel said, before asking the court to provide an order to clarify what issues the ACCC wants to have addressed. 

Justice Thomas Thawley then proceeded to issue two orders -- the first being for Google to send a letter to the ACCC detailing the issues it would like to have clarified. The second order is for the ACCC to provide the information.

Thawley noted that while the back and forth may delay the progress of the dispute and increase costs, he acknowledged both parties needed to come to an agreement on what issues precisely are in dispute if it is to be settled in court.

Beyond the allegations that Google failed to provide relevant location information data to its users, the ACCC is also alleging that, during the latter half of last year, Google had told its users they needed to stop using services like Maps and Search to prevent location data being collected, when switching off the Location History and Web & App Activity settings would have sufficed.

Google also allegedly misrepresented how location data would be used, according to the ACCC.

See also: Top 5: Ways to protect your privacy (TechRepublic)    

"From March 2017 when a consumer accessed the 'Web & App Activity' settings, and from May 2018 when a consumer accessed the 'Location History' setting, Google displayed on-screen messages that represented that location data would only be collected and used by Google for the consumer's use of Google services," the regulator said last month.

The next court hearing is expected to be in February next year. 

The ACCC is currently undergoing five investigations into Google and Facebook's conduct, ACCC chair Rod Sims revealed in August, saying at the time that the market dominance of both companies has given them unparalleled access to Australian audiences.

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