Editorial: User trust in Google takes another hit

Editorial: User trust in Google takes another hit

Users’ trust in Google took yet another hit Thursday.

The tech titan agreed to a $93 million settlement with the state of California resolving allegations that its location-privacy practices violated the state’s consumer protection laws. The accord follows a $391.5 million settlement with 40 states, reached last November, after an investigation into how the company tracked users’ locations since at least 2014.

Specifically, the California Department of Justice and other states had determined that Google was deceiving users by collecting, storing and using their location data for consumer profiling and advertising purposes without users’ informed consent.

It’s an appalling practice that further erodes the tech industry’s reputation when it can least afford it, given the rapid innovations brought about by artificial intelligence.

In order to build trust in AI, it’s imperative that people believe that tech companies are heavily invested in protecting consumers at all levels, including privacy.

That trust stands at an all-time low, with good reason.

The Harvard Business Review recently wrote that trust in technology is a reflection of the decisions people make when they develop technology, use it and implement it. The Google settlement with the state shows just how that can go amiss.

In order to protect users’ privacy interests in California, the agreement calls on Google to:

• Show additional information to users when enabling location-related account settings.

• Provide more transparency about location tracking.

• Disclose to users before using location history data to build ad-targeting profiles for users.

Google did not admit guilt in the settlement and issued a statement that said: “Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this matter, which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago.”

That’s a cop-out that does little to assure Google users.

Google is on pace to generate more than $200 billion in advertising revenue this year. It will account for roughly 80% of its total revenues. Providing consumer data to advertisers is a significant part of its business.

Americans can’t count on Congress to ensure greater protections. Federal lawmakers have recognized the issue for more than a decade but failed to act.

It isn’t from lack of effort by Bay Area representatives. The Online Privacy Act of 2023, sponsored by Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, is a modified version of legislation they first introduced in 2019 and then again in 2021.

Their legislation would create the Digital Privacy Agency, designed to prescribe rules, issue guidelines and enforce federal privacy laws. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the act to be made law, not with Republicans controlling the House.

Artificial intelligence is tech’s next Big Thing. It’s imperative that Google and other tech industry leaders take the necessary steps to start winning back users’ trust in their products and leadership.

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