Facebook, Google Hit With Lawsuits for ‘Secret’ Location Tracking

Tech giants filed location histories, even when users opted out of the feature, lawsuits claim

Last Updated: October 23, 2018 @ 11:22 AM

Facebook and Google have both been hit with lawsuits claiming that the Silicon Valley giants secretly track their users’ locations against their will and use the information to pad its advertising business.

The class action complaint against Facebook, which was filed by Brett Heeger last Friday in San Francisco federal court, said the social network tracks its users even after they’ve opted out of its “Location History” feature.

“Facebook secretly tracks, logs, and stores location data for all of its users–including those who have sought to limit the information about their locations that Facebook may store in its servers by choosing to turn Location History off,” the suit said. “Because Facebook misleads users and engages in this deceptive practice, collecting and storing private location data against users’ expressed choice, Plaintiff brings this class action on behalf of himself and similarly situated Facebook users.”

Heeger said users aren’t aware of Facebook’s “secret tracking” unless they download their data from the company and search “multiple levels of obscure folders.” He claimed he set up his privacy settings to stop Facebook from tracking his location, but the company continued to do so. Facebook used “estimated locations,” using his IP address and WiFi data, to continue tracking his location, Heeger claimed. The action violated federal and state wiretapping laws, according to the suit.

Facebook benefited from tracking Heeger, the suit claimed, because the company makes money off location-based advertisements. The complaint seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Facebook, in a statement to TheWrap, pushed back against the lawsuit, saying its location tracking policy has always been transparent.

“Our Data Policy and related disclosures explain our practices relating to location data and provide information about the privacy settings we make available,” a Facebook spokesperson told TheWrap. “This lawsuit is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

The lawsuit follows a similar complaint against Google, which was filed on Oct. 12. in San Francisco federal court. The suit claims that Google “intentionally provided inaccurate instructions” for its users to turn off its own “Location History” feature.

“Google explicitly represented that its users could prevent Google from tracking their location data by disabling a feature called ‘Location History’ on their devices. Google stated: ‘With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.’ This statement is false,” the lawsuit claimed. “Turning off the ‘Location History’ setting merely stops Google from adding new locations to the ‘timeline’ accessible by users. In secret, Google was still tracking, storing, and monetizing all the same information.”

Instead, users have to navigate a labyrinth to reach the correct “Web & Activity” page to turn off location tracking — a page “Google’s instructions intentionally omit all references to,” according to the class action complaint. The suit points to an Aug. 13 report from the Associated Press that brought Google’s tracking policies into question.

Google’s “secret trick,” allowing the company to continue monitoring its billions of users, violated California privacy law and the state’s right to privacy, according to the suit.

The suit is seeking monetary damages and an injunction against Google continuing the practices.

Google did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

Following the AP’s report, Google updated its location tracking policy to “make it more consistent and clear,” the company told TheWrap in August.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.