Google and Facebook have been hit separately by class action lawsuits accusing the companies of secretly tracking users’ locations, even after those users were led to believe that they had switched such tracking off.
Anyone whose location information has been tracked without their knowledge could join these class action suits. With millions of users potentially eligible, the bill could stretch into billions if plaintiffs get full relief in court.
In a class action suit filed in California District Court, former Facebook app user Brett Heeger sued the social media giant for allegedly continuing to collect users’ location information from their mobile phones even after they had taken advantage of its option to turn off location tracking.
The suit also accuses Facebook of violating its 2011 Consent Decree with the Federal Trade Commission. Under this 20-year agreement, Facebook promised:
…not [to] misrepresent in any manner… the extent to which it maintains the privacy or security of covered information.
The suit against Google follows similar arguments. Filed by individuals Leslie Lee, Stacy Smedley and Frederick Davis, it accuses the company of continuing to collect location data even after a user had opted out. Rather than stopping the collection altogether, it simply stopped aggregating it and displaying it visually on a timeline for users, the suit says, citing press coverage from earlier this year. To truly turn off location tracking:
Users had to disable a setting titled “Web and App Activity” – even though Google did not describe the setting as including location data or disclose that the setting allowed Users’ location to be tracked and stored.
Both lawsuits are suing the two tech giants for violating California laws including the state’s Constitutional Right of Privacy, and its Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and its Invasion of Privacy Act.
The Facebook suit says that the social media giant violated the Federal Stored Communications Act, and demanded damages of $1,000 per violation under that legislation alone.
The Google suit also says that the company violated California’s Unfair Competition Law and Colorado’s Consumer Protection Act.
Aside from damages, both lawsuits are asking for the companies to explain exactly what they did to affected users, destroy the data that they collected, and promise not to do it again. The Google suit also wants the company to give up the revenues that it obtained with the data that it collected.
Prosecutors could not sue Facebook under a single Federal privacy law because the US does not yet have one. A US version of the General Data Protection Regulation is long overdue to protect citizens’ privacy, Apple’s Tim Cook suggested during a talk at a privacy conference in Brussels this month. Personal data is being “weaponized”, he added.
Lawsuits aside, both Google and Facebook executives have also lent their support to a Federal privacy law in the past.