Google is facing fresh legal action over claims it recorded users’ locations, even after they had switched off its optional ‘Location History’ setting on their device.
The company is under investigation by Arizona’s attorney general, who is looking into whether the search firm deceived its users.
Google could face huge fines – up to $10,000 (£7,770) per violation – if the claims are confirmed by a team of lawyers assembled by the state of Arizona.
This could lead to unprecedented penalties in the United States, potentially prompting similar moves elsewhere in the world.
Google previously claimed it did not mislead customers over its location tracking.
The investigation was launched by Republican Mark Brnovich, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke to the Washington Post under the condition of anonymity.
A public filing dated August 21 – one week after an explosive report revealed the extent of the location tracking undertaken by Google – has recently come to light.
The redacted document reveals Brnovich’s office has hired a team of lawyers to look into an unnamed technology company.
The team are investigating its ‘storage of consumer location data, tracking of consumer location, and other consumer tracking through . . . smartphone operating systems, even when consumers turn off “location services” and take other steps to stop such tracking.’
A spokesman for the Arizona attorney general’s office has since released a statement on the matter.
‘While we cannot confirm the company or companies at the center of this probe, we decided to move forward and retain outside counsel after a series of troubling news reports, including a recent story that highlighted Google’s alleged tracking of consumer movements even if consumers attempt to opt out of such services,’ Katie Conner told ZDNet.
‘General Brnovich has prioritized consumer data privacy and cybersecurity since taking office. This investigation shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows him well.’
Google clarified its position on tracking in a statement to the Washington Post.
Google spokesman Aaron Stein said location data ‘helps us provide useful services when people interact with our products, like locally relevant search results and traffic predictions.’
MailOnline has contacted Google for further comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
This is not the first time that Google has had to fend off legal action over the decision to continue to track users who switched off the ‘location history’ setting.
Google is already embroiled in a California court case.
According to a complaint filed in August, Google falsely assured people they would not be tracked if they turn the ‘Location History’ feature on their phones to ‘off,’ and instead violates their privacy by monitoring and storing their movements.
It alleged that Google is in violation of California’s Invasion of Privacy Act.
‘Google represented that a user can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,’ the complaint filed in San Francisco federal court stated. ‘This simply was not true.’
The plaintiff, Napoleon Patacsil of San Diego, is seeking class-action status on behalf of every US-based user of Android and iOS smartphones who turned the tracking feature off.
He is seeking unspecified damages for Google’s alleged intentional violations of California privacy laws, and intrusion into people’s private affairs.
The move follows an explosive report by the Associated Press, which revealed that several Google apps and websites store user location even if users turned off Location History.
For the investigative report, Princeton postdoctoral researcher Gunes Acar carried an Android smartphone with the ‘Location History’ setting turned off.
Despite the setting purportedly preventing data collection, researchers discovered Google had kept records of Dr Acar’s train commute on two trips to New York and visits to the High Line park, Chelsea Market, Hell’s Kitchen, Central Park and Harlem.
Researchers then plotted the locations on a map. They found that Google keeps track of your current location each time you open Google Maps.
The daily weather updates on Android phones also provided another way to track movement.
Google altered its website so that it says turning Location History off ‘does not affect other location services’ in phones and that some location data may be saved through other services, such as Search and Maps.
Previously, the page stated: ‘With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.’
Google acknowledge the change in a statement to reporters.
‘We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear across our platforms and help centers,’ Google said in a statement to the Associated Press at the time.
Privacy experts have assailed Google’s policy of saving user location data that it doesn’t technically classify as ‘location history.’
Additionally, a privacy group stated in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission that Google violated the terms of a 2011 settlement by collecting users’ data even when their Location History was turned off.
In that settlement, Google said it wouldn’t misrepresent its practices related to ‘(1) the purposes for which it collects and uses covered information, and (2) the extent to which consumers may exercise control over the collection, use, or disclosure of covered information.’
As part of the settlement, Google also agreed to a 20-year monitoring regimen.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.