Google Sued For Surreptitious User Data Collection

Android mobile device users Joseph Taylor, Edward Mlakar, Mick Cleary, and Eugene Alvis filed a class-action complaint on Thursday in the Northern District of California against Google alleging that the defendant surreptitiously used their cellular data to constantly transmit their personal device data to Google even when they were not using their device. Google allegedly used this data for targeted advertising purposes.

The plaintiffs claimed that Google “designed the Android operating system to collect vast amounts of information about users, which Google uses to generate billions in profit annually by selling targeted digital advertisements.” However, the plaintiffs asserted that there “are privacy implications” for this purported surreptitious surveillance and Google is engaging in “unlawful taking of Android users’ property namely, their cellular data.” 

According to the complaint, “Google effectively forces these users to subsidize its surveillance by secretly programming Android devices to constantly transmit user information to Google in real time, thus appropriating the valuable cellular data users have purchased.” Allegedly, Google does this without user knowledge or consent and for its own financial gain. Thus, the plaintiffs proffered that Google’s surreptitious surveillance misappropriates users’ cellular data that they pay for and other information for its own purposes. As a result, the plaintiffs claimed that Google illicitly interferes with users’ property.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs contended that this data is often collected “without any action at all by Android device owners.” Specifically, the Android operating system, according to the plaintiffs, “secretly appropriates cellular data paid for by Plaintiffs to perform ‘passive’ information transfers.” Moreover, the plaintiffs claimed that this data transmission between a Google Android device and Google “is not time-sensitive and could be delayed until Plaintiffs are in Wi-Fi range to avoid consuming Plaintiffs’ cellular data allowances,” but Google allegedly purposely “designed and coded its Android operating system and Google applications to take advantage of Plaintiffs’ data allowances and passively transfer information at all hours of the day,” despite a user’s efforts to minimize data usage or sharing. This purportedly occurs even after Plaintiffs have moved apps to the background, closed programs, and disabled location-sharing. 

The plaintiffs averred that Google “designed its Android operating system and apps to prevent users from changing the settings to disable these transfers completely or to restrict them to Wi-Fi networks.” They reiterated that they and the putative class “had no say” in Google’s alleged misconduct and “remain largely powerless to stop it.” 

The plaintiffs proffered that they were not given warnings and did not consent to these transmissions, nor were they given the option to disable them. Additionally, the plaintiffs claimed that Google’s policies and binding contracts forced users to accept these terms in order to use their Android device. However, the plaintiffs pointed out that Google’s terms and policies and privacy policy do not disclose the data transmission. 

The putative class includes: “All natural persons in the United States (excluding citizens of the State of California) who have used mobile devices running the Android operating system to access the internet through cellular data plans provided by mobile carriers.”

The plaintiffs have sought for the court to rule that Google converted the plaintiffs’ cellular data property. Additionally, the plaintiffs have requested for the court to award the plaintiffs and the putative class the value of their converted and used cellular data, pre and post judgment interest on damages, an injunction, and award for costs and fees.

The plaintiffs are represented by Korein Tillery LLC, McManis Faulkner, and Bartlit Beck LLP.