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Google settles with 40 states, including MN, over location privacy lawsuit

The states accused Google of tracking people's locations even when they turned off Location History.

Google reached a $392 million settlement Monday with 40 states, including Minnesota, after they accused the company of tracking users' locations without them knowing.

Minnesota will receive more than $8 million from the deal, according to Attorney General Keith Ellison.

"Google knew that its location-tracking practices were tracking people against their will, against their knowledge, and they got called on it," Ellison said in an interview with KARE 11. "And they have to compensate the people of Minnesota."

It's the largest privacy settlement in U.S. history, according to the attorney general who litigated the case. 

Their legal action was prompted by a 2018 Associated Press investigation, which found that "many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you've used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so." The Associated Press reported that even if someone turned off Location History, the company had other means of tracking location through Google Maps or other apps. 

"Consistent with improvements we've made in recent years, we have settled this investigation," Google spokesperson José Castañeda said in a statement, "which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago." 

On top of the $392 million financial settlement, Google will also have to make other changes, including being more transparent with people about when and how their location data is being used. 

Mark Lanterman, the chief technology officer at Computer Forensic Sciences, likened Google's previous activity as "allowing us to lock our front door but we had to leave the window open."

"I think they're very clever, and a lot of these Big Tech companies are clever. One way they make money is by gathering an incredible amount of information," Lanterman said. "Do I think they're going to make changes? Yes. Do I think they're going to comply with the law moving forward? That's yet to be seen."

This all comes as Republicans and Democrats in Congress, including Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, continue to discuss a federal privacy law to further regulate Big Tech.

"I think Big Tech, has, for years, said: 'You really don't want to regulate us, we'll self-regulate,'" said Twin Cities attorney Bob Cattanach, who specializes in cybersecurity. "I think they've used up all their good faith credits. The question is, can there be more bipartisan support for oversight, and for maybe a privacy law federally?"

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