- Company emails revealed in a lawsuit show that Google workers were confused about their companyâ€™s location settings.
- The suit claims that Googleâ€™s data gathering practices broke Arizona law.
- Google says its privacy settings have improved since.
Have you had trouble figuring out Googleâ€™s privacy settings at times? Donâ€™t worry â€” even the companyâ€™s employees have had that problem. TheÂ Arizona Mirror (viaÂ Ars Technica) has obtained internal emails from a state lawsuit revealing that some Googlers were confused about location privacy settings after reading an August 2018 Associated Press article on data tracking.
Staff complained that the location data toggles werenâ€™t clear â€” it wasnâ€™t obvious that there were universal and per-device switches, or that there would otherwise be exceptions. The interface â€œconfuses users,â€� one worker wrote, while another said the interface felt designed to make things feasible, but tricky enough that you wouldnâ€™t â€œfigure it out.â€�
â€œThis is enough to confuse a privacy-focused [Google engineer],â€� one staffer wrote. â€œThatâ€™s not good.â€�
Even Googlers are confused by location settings
The lawsuit also showed that Google invoked a crisis mode when theÂ AP piece arrived, and held a meeting to discuss the story.
A Google spokesman talking to theÂ Mirror characterized the email quotes as â€œcherry-pickedâ€� and pointed out that its engineers â€œwork continuouslyâ€� to improve location settings and other privacy tools, noting that the employees in question were striving for better controls.
The emails surfaced as part of a lawsuit accusing Google of violating Arizonaâ€™s Consumer Fraud Act through its data gathering practices. The messages had initially been sealed, but industry groups Digital Content Next and News Media Alliance succeeded in unsealing relevant documents.
Googleâ€™s approach to privacy has changed in the two years since the AP article surfaced. It brought privacy controls to its apps in October 2018 and has put a greater overall emphasis on privacy for both itself and third-party developers. That might only matter so much for the lawsuit at hand, however. Arizona is focused on data collection practices at the time of the original complaint, not how they are now, and Google could still face penalties for its past actions.