Google labels ACCC's allegations as 'narrow' but will hand over 40 categories of evidence

The official hearing is currently scheduled to commence at the end of the year.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

At Australian Federal Court on Wednesday, Google was ordered to hand over evidence to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in relation to the watchdog's allegations that Google mishandled the location data of its users.

The evidence that is to be handed to the ACCC includes over 40 categories of information and data. 

Throughout the day, Google's legal counsel Robert Yezerski told the court he was concerned that handing over the evidence via discovery would postpone the case's decision as it is a time consuming and costly process. 

He also labelled the ACCC's allegations as "very narrow" and brushed off any references to Google's interface as being a "labyrinth of screens and processes", explaining that the allegations were only applicable to certain Google account settings and certain screens. 

"The case is very narrow and it's narrow in three particular respects. First it's narrow because it's limited to two Google account settings. These are not device settings and they're not app settings, being location history and weather activity," Yezerski said. 

"Second, it's limited only to statements made about the settings on Android mobile devices and, as I say, that's significant because these settings can be accessed on other platforms in other ways and there's no general allegation that everything Google ever said about these particular Google accounts was misleading -- it's only in the context of users who accessed these settings in a particular way.

"Finally, it's limited to the specific allegations that are [misrepresented by the ACCC]." 

While Justice Thomas Thawley understood the case had significant public importance, he came to the conclusion that the matter's decision was not so urgent that it had to be heard this year.

Not all of the ACCC's requests for evidence were accepted, however. Thawley rejected the ACCC's request for information that was created outside of the date range of when Google allegedly mishandled the data. 

The ACCC's legal counsel, Kate Richardson, argued this category of evidence was important as it likely contained statements by Google and its employees on how the user interface actually worked and how users went through the location settings. 

Thawley disagreed with this notion, explaining that he believed these types of evidence were not of the same nature when compared to the other categories.

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

Since the action's inception, the consumer watchdog has continued its argument that consumers were led to believe that Location History was the only setting that needed to be switched off. Meanwhile, Google told the court in November that the ACCC's claims were "out of context" and did not reflect how Android devices handled location data. 

The hearing is set to be held at the end of this year, but it may be pushed back to allow the discovery process to take its course.

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