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Search giant Google has agreed to a $391.5 million settlement with Iowa and 39 other states to resolve an investigation into how the company tracked users' locations, state attorneys general announced Monday.
The states' investigation was sparked by a 2018 Associated Press story, which found that Google continued to track people's location data even after they opted out of such tracking by disabling a feature the company called “location history."
The attorneys general called the settlement a historic win for consumers, and the largest multi-state settlement in U.S. history dealing with privacy.
Iowa will receive $6.17 million from the settlement, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s Office said Monday.
“When consumers make the decision to not share location data on their devices, they should be able to trust that a company will no longer track their every move,” Miller said in a news release.
“That wasn’t the case when it comes to Google’s tracking practices. This settlement makes it clear that companies must be transparent in how they track customers and abide by state and federal privacy laws.”
The settlement comes at a time of mounting unease over privacy and surveillance by tech companies that has drawn growing outrage from politicians and scrutiny by regulators.
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June ending the constitutional protections for abortion raised potential privacy concerns for women seeking the procedure or related information online.
Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., said it fixed the problems with collection of location data several years ago.
“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation, which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago," a company spokesman said in a statement.
Location tracking can help tech companies sell digital ads to marketers seeking to connect with consumers within their vicinity.
It’s another tool in a data-gathering tool kit that generates more than $200 billion in annual ad revenue for Google, accounting for most of the profits pouring into the coffers of its corporate parent, Alphabet — which has a market value of $1.2 trillion.
In its 2018 story, the AP reported that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store users' location data even if they've used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so. Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP’s request.