back to article Three US states plus Washington DC sue Google for using UI design 'dark patterns' to harvest your location

The Attorneys General of Indiana, Texas, Washington state, and Washington DC on Monday each filed lawsuits against Google alleging that the search giant uses deceptive user interface designs known as "dark patterns" to obtain customer location data without adequate consent. "We're leading a bipartisan group of AGs from Texas, …

  1. msobkow Silver badge

    I don't see this succeeding. It would be rather hard to prove they're manipulating people intentionally, and I've seen no signs of any kind of "suggestive" buttons or the like.

    The fact one of the filings is in Texas tells me all I need to know about this failure.

    1. msobkow Silver badge

      To the downvoters: you're confusing your emotions with law.

      Legally, this case will fail because it is virtually unprovable.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Try to disable Google Assistant on any recent Android phone. You'll spend an hour trying to figure it out, 30 minutes Googling, and another 5-10 minutes going down the long dark hallway of options, where if you screw it up, you're back at the beginning.

      You want to enable Google Assistant? Accidentally hold down the home button for a second or swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

      If that isn't a dark pattern, I don't know what is.

      1. X5-332960073452
        Stop

        "30 minutes Googling" - there's your problem

      2. cmdrklarg

        Go into Apps under Settings and disable the Google app. The "enable GA" prompts will no longer annoy you.

        (on a Moto G Power, YMMV)

  2. The Basis of everything is...

    You want to connect to bluetooth? Enable location

    You want to connect to WiFi? Enable location

    Warning: Disabling location access may break applications and degrade your experience.

    Suddenly seeing location has turned itself on for no apparent reason and no way to find out which app did so

    The permissions that Google apps have by default and the scary warnings (or outright refusal) to revoke them.

    Apps that are baked into the phone that you don't use or need and cannot stop.

    Meh, gets depressing. Beer time.

    1. gobaskof

      I told Google maps it couldn't store everywhere I had ever been. In response it also it turned off being able to safe favourite locations (either globally or as preferred locally) so I could set favourites to drive to. Deep throat yourselves Google. Happily I am 10 months into my current phone and still have managed to never sign into Google.

      1. msobkow Silver badge

        Gee, you told it not to save your data, and now you're ticked that it won't save your data.... *LMAO*

      2. pc-fluesterer.info
        Megaphone

        ... or use FOSS

        so why do you use gmaps at all? There are FOSS maps such as MagicEarth or OSMAnd.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: ... or use FOSS

          I use osmand, because I always try to fart in google's general direction, and while I like some of osmand features, I feel their interface (or rather menus) are awfully un-user-friendly. But that's perhaps the price of de-googling, so I'm ok with that. Until a point it turns out they also collect my data, as usual, 'for the benefit of the user'. But then, I'm aware privacy is 'a cost', if it can't be sold off and turned into profit.

          1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

            Re: ... or use FOSS

            I use OsmAnd too. So nice of Google to make microSd access 10000x slower for this app with SAF "for security." I'm stuck on an old build that's still allowed to bypass it. Google even updated it once against my permission while I was on vacation and I had to recover from F-Droid.

      3. big_D Silver badge

        I deinstalled Google Maps from my last Android phone.

        I rarely use navigation, so I didn't miss it - in the last 5 years, I've used Google Maps once and the built-in GPS in my car about half a dozen times.

        1. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Good for you. There are those of us that get lost in a long hallway. Which sucks. Before GPS, I just didn't go anywhere.

          1. Joe Drunk

            Good for you. There are those of us that get lost in a long hallway. Which sucks. Before GPS, I just didn't go anywhere.

            Yea I really like GPS/SATNAV - just not on my phone. This is why I purchased a dedicated unit (Garmin) that doesn't connect to anything except GPS satellites. It also came with free lifetime map updates. I still use Google Maps (not the app, in the phone's web browser) when I need to find points of interest. Location service etc. disabled which has boosted battery life and data usage significantly.

          2. ShadowSystems

            At Gene Cash, re: long hallways.

            Long hallways? Luxury! I'm so lacking a sense of direction that I get lost in my own head.

            *Shakes a palsied fist*

            Danged whippersnapper anyer newfangled gee-pee-ess doohickeyz.

            Get offn muh laaaawwwwwn!

            =-)p

            On a slightly more serious note, I can fully empathize & sympathize with such a tendancy to get lost easily.

            Back when I could still see to do so, I always kept multiple maps in my car for use when I inevitably got lost & needed to find my way back to something resembling civilization.

            I'd tried using one of those talking-sat-nav things, but it would invariably give up with a disgusted sigh & tell me "Fuck it, I have no idea where the hell we are -- pull over & ask someone if they can help?"

            I know modern SmartPhones have built-in GPS & can run the navigation software to help you keep from getting lost, but what do you do if you get lost just trying to figure out the fekkin' phone itself? =-J

    2. Snake Silver badge

      Secrets

      There are secrets to helping you tame Google, and I'm going to share some with you after discovering them myself. So take notes ;-)

      A lot of Google data goes through 2 structures, Google Play Services (most people know this) and Google Services Framework (which most people don't, because the Framework is hidden in Apps by default). When you install third-party apps they default inheriting Google Play Services' permission set.

      Note that disabling the Framework also kills many things (good for me, thank you very much), such as Maps' and many other program's location abilities.

      So into Android App management and then hit the hamburger (3 dots) icon on the upper right. Then tap on "Show System Apps".

      Turn off all permissions on Google Play Services, then go into Data in Google Play Services and set "Restrict Background Data" to "Always". That will help kill off some of the telemetry feed.

      Go and disable all permissions in Google Services Framework, then terminate the process. Then disable it.

      Disable Goggle Maps (which helps feed location).

      If you want to run a program that asks for your location and you want to give it, remember to re-enable Google Services Framework for the duration of the program's usage (kill it again afterwards).

      There are other things I've learned, but they'll... remain a bit secret for now :P

      1. pc-fluesterer.info

        Re: Secrets -- or turn to Custom-ROM

        You'd better turn to a FOSS custom-ROM in the first place: LineageOS, System /e/, iodé, Sailfish, you name it.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Secrets -- or turn to Custom-ROM

          Yes, but banking and payment apps usually cry foul, if you do that.

          In the early 2010s, I used custom ROM regularly, but since payment apps and banking apps look for rooted devices and refuse to run, it has made the use of custom ROMs difficult.

          1. Updraft102

            Re: Secrets -- or turn to Custom-ROM

            The device does not need to be rooted to run a custom ROM. Each time it is updated, it has to be rooted again.

            Hasn't been a problem for me, though, and I use banking apps from three different banks. I use a custom rom with Micro-g. It's rooted with Magisk.

          2. Graham Cobb Silver badge

            Re: Secrets -- or turn to Custom-ROM

            /e/ does seem to work hard to try to make apps work while delivering privacy. Many do work - including several which do not like my other Android-ish environments (Sailfish, LineageOS and Replicant - but nothing works on Replicant except stuff you write yourself, in my experience).

          3. Billy Whiz

            Re: Secrets -- or turn to Custom-ROM

            "...but banking and payment apps usually cry foul, if you do that."

            Err, no they don't. Not in my experience anyway, obviously your's may differ. I have Lineage without Google Play Services or even MicroG apps and bank app happily works without complaint and even regularly updates itself.

            If an app, even a banking one, insists on Using Google Services then there are other options. Yes it may involve some inconveinience, but until people start saying no to such things nothing will change.

        2. Snake Silver badge

          Re: Custom-ROM

          Thank you kindly but I just looked at the LineageOS website.

          As usual, not only is my current device not supported but the devices I'm looking at, on my carrier with the features I want, are also not supported.

          -_-

      2. stiine Silver badge

        Re: Secrets

        If you want to disable location tracking, first, uninstall your weather app (if Samsung will let you.)

    3. JimboSmith Silver badge

      This sounds similar to Microsoft tricking people into upgrading to Windows 10 by using the close window red X https://www.theregister.com/2016/06/29/microsoft_removes_updatebydismissal_win10_policy

    4. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      So helpful in offering a beacon database

      You have to enable Location Services for Bluetooth because Google translates Bluetooth beacon GUIDs into physical locations. That's how Maps works without satellite GPS and it's why Google would prefer that you don't have a headphone jack. There's another one for WiFi location tracking but with a more deceptive description.

    5. David 132 Silver badge

      Not to go all whataboutery on this thread, but I get the same feeling about disabling Wifi/bluetooth on iPhone too. Since IOS 12 (or was it 11?) tapping the "disable wifi" or "disable BT" buttons in the quick access panel doesn't actually disable them (and their associated location-tracking powers) - just temporarily disconnects you from your current WWAN or devices. I strongly suspect that's done deliberately as a dark pattern, also.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dark Patterns

    The state of Indiana uses "Dark Patterns" on its own website. I wonder how the fact that Indiana does some of the same things will play out in their lawsuit? Is the state AG going to sue itself as well?

    1. stiine Silver badge

      Re: Dark Patterns

      "Is the state AG going to sue itself as well?"

      Not successfully...

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