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Legal Report: Google Settles to End Privacy Investigation

Judicial decisions.

Privacy. Google agreed to a $391.5 million settlement with 40 U.S. states over violations of location tracking of users. The agreement closes an investigation into how the technology giant tracked users’ locations, an investigation that was kicked off by the states after a 2018 Associated Press article spotlighted how the company continued to track the data even after users thought they were disabling the function via a feature called “location history.”

Location tracking, part of a larger data-gathering portfolio, allow marketers to tailor ads to consumers. Overall, it generates more than $200 billion every year in ad revenue for Google, according to the AP. User data, including location services, can also be used by law enforcement in investigations ranging from homicides to accessing abortion services, according to Zdnet.com.

Attorneys general for Oregon and Washington jointly oversaw the investigation, while the settlement was led by attorneys general from Oregon and Nebraska.

“Until we have comprehensive privacy laws, companies will continue to compile large amounts of our personal data for marketing purposes with few controls,” said Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon attorney general, in a press release about the settlement.

While Oregon will receive a little more than $14.8 million, the amounts for other states will vary. For example, Florida will receive nearly $26.8 million, Pennsylvania receives $19.7 million, New Jersey will get $17.8 million, Michigan will see $12 million, and Wisconsin receives $8.4 million.

Beyond the payouts, the settlement also ordered Google to increase its transparency of its practices. Beginning in 2023, the company must show additional information to users whenever a location-related setting is adjusted, disclose key information about location tracking, and give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how that data is used.

In a blog post titled “Managing your location data,” Google noted that the settlement “is another step along the path of giving more meaningful choices and minimizing data collection while providing more helpful services.” (Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, Offices of the Attorney General for the State of Florida et al., 2022)

Wrongful conviction. New York City agreed to a $26 million settlement over the wrongful conviction of two men who were sentenced to prison over the assassination of civil rights leader Malcolm X. New York state will pay another $10 million.

A 2020 investigation into the men’s convictions found that prosecutors, the NYPD, and the FBI withheld crucial evidence during the original trial in 1965. Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam were imprisoned for more than 20 years before their conviction was overturned in 2021—posthumously for Islam, who died in 2009.

Aziz—who was released from prison in 1985—filed a lawsuit in July 2022 after talks with the city yielded no agreement over what would qualify as an appropriate remedy for the conviction and imprisonment.

The settlement will be evenly divided between Aziz and Islam’s estate. (Muhammad A. Aziz v. The City of New York et al., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, No. 22-cv-04113, 2022)



Negligence. A county board of supervisors agreed to a $480,000 settlement after a pregnant inmate failed to receive timely medical attention.

In March 2016, Sandra Quinones was six months pregnant when her water broke. She was serving a 70-day sentence in a jail in Orange County, California, after she was convicted of possessing a controlled substance. Quinones pushed the call button in her cell, asking prison staff to take her to a hospital. Then she waited for two hours for that help to finally come.

While driving between the prison and the hospital, the county employees escorting her allegedly stopped at a Starbucks instead of taking Quinones directly to the hospital. Quinones lost the pregnancy.

She filed a suit against the county in 2020, which accused the county of inadequately training its employees in how to deal with inmates who require medical attention, especially ones who are pregnant.

The suit was still moving through the federal courts when the board of supervisors for the county agreed to a $480,000 settlement with Quinones in late August 2022. (Sandra Quinones et al. v. County of Orange et al., U.S. Court of Appeals, No. 20-cv-00666, 2022)



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Legislation.

Gun rights. Voters in the U.S. state of Iowa approved a ballot measure that will amend the state’s Constitution by further cementing gun ownership.

Voters were asked to add decisive language to the Iowa Constitution that says residents have a “fundamental individual right” to arms, invalidating any hindrance on that right unless it comes after extreme court scrutiny.

Almost 66 percent of Iowan voters approved the measure, according to The Gazette.

Regulations.

Data privacy. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission fined Facebook parent company Meta €265 million ($279.8 million) over its breach of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

The data watchdog began investigating the company in April 2021 after a hacking forum published data from 533 million users that was supposed to have been deleted from Facebook. Specifically, the social media’s search and contact-importing features for Facebook Messenger and Instagram were misused to extract data, according to BBC News.



Other stories

Here are other stories where the security industry intersects with the law. Some are developing stories that Security Management will continue to follow.

Brand reputation. Environmental organizations are suing the Dutch airline KLM. In the suit, the company is accused of “greenwashing.” The plaintiffs claim that the company’s advertisements promoting its sustainability initiative are misleading.

Casino compliance. Australia’s Star Entertainment Ltd. faces a second class action suit, alleging that the casino company failed to comply with disclosure requirements regarding anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing rules. Another similar claim was filed by a law firm in March 2022.

Corporate negligence. Block—the payments company formerly known as Square—faces a class action lawsuit after a breach compromised the data of roughly 8.2 million users. The suit also points to a four-month gap between when the breach occurred and when the company disclosed the incident to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Crypto fraud. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced the seizure of seven domain names that were recently used in a cryptocurrency confidence crime called “pig butchering.” James Zhong, who pled guilty to wire fraud in November 2022, allegedly stole approximately 50,000 Bitcoin from Dark Web marketplace Silk Road.

Excessive force. A St. Louis, Missouri, hospital faces a lawsuit after hospital security officers arrested and allegedly aggressively confronted a patient suffering from stage 4 renal failure.

Excessive force. A federal jury awarded a 65-year-old man $100 million in a civil lawsuit against the city of Atlanta, Georgia, and an officer after the officer paralyzed the man from the neck-down.

Human trafficking. According to the U.S. state of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, a woman accused of homicide can argue that her actions were justified because the person who was killed was sexually trafficking her. 

Improper firing. Twitter informed Ireland’s High Court that it restored an Irish senior executive to her position in the company after an email message mishandling.

Ransomware. Canadian law enforcement officials arrested a suspect accused of participating in LockBit ransomware attacks, which resulted in victims all over the world millions of dollars.

Religious freedom. A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that barring prisoners from using head coverings is a violation of federal law.

Safe driving. Earlier in 2022, Brazil’s Supreme Court declared that the country’s “Dry Law” (Lei. No. 13,546, 2017)—mandating that drivers must have a blood-alcohol content of zero—is fully constitutional. Enacted in 2012 and finally enforceable, the law empowers law enforcement to force a driver to take a roadside alcohol test, the results of which can be entered as evidence in subsequent criminal proceedings. The punishment for violating driving drunk or while under the effects of any mind-altering substances is a prison sentence of five to eight years, plus at least the suspension of the driver’s license.

Trade secrets. Canadian authorities charged a Hydro-Quebec researcher with espionage for allegedly attempting to obtain trade secrets for China. Hydro-Quebec is the country’s largest electric utility.

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