Google's privacy options have always been known to be unnecessarily complicated – so much so that even their own employees find them confusing and misleading.
Newly unsealed documents (via Arizona Mirror) from Google's consumer fraud lawsuit in Arizona reveal several internal emails in which some company employees admit their location controls can use better messaging and a little simplification.
"The current user interface seems to be designed to do things, but so difficult that people can't figure it out," one contributor wrote.
Back in May, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit against Google over illegal data collection based on the Consumer Fraud Act. The lawsuit arose out of the Associated Press' 2018 report that highlighted how Google continues to track users even when they explicitly disable the location setting on Android.
Another employee, whose credentials had been edited, agreed to the Associated Press article. “Location off should mean location off; not except in this or that case. "
Google spokesman Jose Castaneda in a statement to Arizona Mirror said that even these "cherry-picked published excerpts" clearly state that the team's "goal was to reduce confusion about location history settings." “Data protection controls have long been built into our services and our teams are constantly working to discuss and improve them. On location information, we've received feedback and we've worked hard to improve our privacy controls, ”he added.
The documents also suggest that even Google employees were surprised by the report and the many loopholes that allowed the search engine giant to collect data on users who had opted out.
"Definitely confusing from a user perspective when we need googlers to explain it to us," another email said.
The Google ecosystem of services that can be used to exchange data with one another offers various ways of collecting data about you. They are not always associated with a single setting. Even if it is obvious that you are turning off data collection, in some cases there is a chance that another Google module is still actively tracking you.
The Associated Press study was about switching the location on your phone. Of course, you'd think that disabling it would stop location tracking entirely. If you turned it off, third-party apps just couldn't find you directly and couldn't personalize their services. However, Google and advertisers were still able to monitor your whereabouts. Since then, Google has made several improvements to its suite of privacy controls, including a self-destructing switch and a simplified dashboard to manage all of your Google activity.
Brnovich has filed a lawsuit against Google, but the court has not yet issued a verdict. Google is currently facing multiple antitrust investigations and lawsuits, including one from the Justice Department and a group of attorneys-general for the company's online advertising business.