PHOENIX — Internet giant Google is asking a judge to block a bid by Attorney General Mark Brnovich to publicly disclose documents he got from the company during his investigation of how it uses private information.
Attorney Jean-Jacques Cabou contends there’s no basis for Brnovich’s complaint, arguing that anything the company is accused of doing does not run afoul of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act. That is the law the attorney general is using to claim Google is defrauding Arizona consumers by collecting private information and then storing and sharing it with others.
But Cabou says there can be no fraud because Google was not selling anything to Arizona consumers. And he said Arizonans knew that Google applications and phones using Google’s Android operating system were tracking them, then they agreed to it.
Cabou told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason in new filings that he should decide the issue of the validity of the case first. He said if the lawsuit is tossed, the issue of what Google documents become public becomes legally moot.
But Assistant Attorney General Beau Roysden told the judge that the public has a right to know immediately what his office unearthed in its investigation of Google. And he said the company’s mere assertions that all 1,200 pages of what it has produced should not be released “do not establish that the materials are confidential, nor are they a basis for sealing information so designated.”
And he said Google has never explained how it would be harmed by disclosure.
“Nor has Google shown that its interest — whatever it may be — overrides the presumption of public access,” Roysden wrote. “On the contrary, consumers have a strong interest in learning how their own data is surreptitiously collected and used by Google.”
Central to the lawsuit, Brnovich is arguing, is that Google last year collected $135 billion from advertisers for detailed information about its users, including where they are located.
That information helps those advertisers target users in specific geographic locations.
The problem with all that, Brnovich charges, is that the tactics the company uses to “surveil” is users’ locations are “willfully deceptive and unfair.” And that, he said, violates the state’s Consumer Fraud Act.
He also says it is difficult for users to stop Google from tracking their travels even after they turn off the “location services” on their devices, calling it “a fake button.”
If nothing else, Brnovich said the default setting for this should be “off.”
Brnovich wants a judge to order Google to surrender any profits it has made “by means of any unlawful practice.” He also wants “full restitution” to Arizona customers and for the company to pay a fine of up to $10,000 for each willful violation of Arizona law.
Finally, he wants a court order barring Google from engaging in similar practices in the future. That would cover not just Google manufactured devices but also its Android operating system and its popular search engine.
Cabou has a few charges of his own.
“Google learned through information it received pursuant to the Arizona Public Records Law that the investigation was encourage by Google’s long-time adversary, Oracle,” he told the judge.
Cabou said Brnovich is arguing the documents at issue need to be disclosed because of “so-called public interest in the case.” But he said that the investigation itself was “improperly publicized” locally and nationally before the lawsuit was filed.
Capitol Media Services, using documents obtained through public records, wrote in 2019 that Brnovich had launched an inquiry into “a major tech firm” about whether it was tracking their movements.
The name of the firm to be investigated, located in a contract with an outside law firm for assistance, was blacked out. But the contract with an outside legal firm was signed just a week after The Associated Press reported that Google was tracking users’ locations even after people had opted out.
Cabou even has something to say about that contract, pointing out the fee arrangement with the Washington law firm of Cooper & Kirk, gives that firm a percentage of what it could recover “or extract a settlement from Google, and nothing at all if they did not.”
The contract caps total outside legal fees at $50 million, not counting what might be recovered in restitution for Google clients.
Ryan Anderson, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, called Google’s response to the request for records — and the complaint about the contingency fee arrangement — “hyperbolic and absurd.”
He said to reach that amount, a settlement or verdict would have to exceed $1 billion.
A status conference on the case is set for this coming month.
Tucson sees surge in vehicle, motorcycle fatalities despite virus-related decrease in traffic
Tucson’s streets have been less busy but more deadly during the coronavirus pandemic, police data shows.
Fatal car and motorcycle crashes have more than tripled so far this year compared to last year despite less traffic on the roads, Tucson Police Department statistics show.
Eighteen drivers and passengers have died so far this year in vehicle crashes other than motorcycles, compared to five such deaths in the same period last year, the data show.
Motorcycle fatalities, which are recorded separately, also have spiked within city limits to 17 deaths this year compared to five this time last year.
Traffic deaths were down slightly last year in Tucson from the previous year.
Meanwhile, pedestrian deaths have declined to 13 so far this year compared to 17 last year. And one bicyclist has died, compared to zero at this point in 2019.
Wildfires such as the Bighorn Fire north of Tucson leave the ground charred and unable to absorb water, which can increase flood risks. “Even …
Nearly a dozen U.S.states have seen death rates rise in lighter traffic, according to the nonprofit National Safety Council, though the increase has not been statewide in Arizona.
The Tucson trend came as a surprise to police Capt. Diana Duffy, the department’s traffic safety coordinator.
“I think we all expected accidents to decrease and deaths to decrease,” Duffy said in an interview. “Instead collisions are down and fatalities are up.”
It turns out that when streets are empty, some drivers tend to get lead feet.
“Excessive speed” was the top factor in most of the recent road deaths, Duffy said.
Impairment also was a factor in some cases, she said, and noted a national survey that found a 200% surge in alcohol sales this past spring.
TPD is aiming to curb the death toll by assigning motorcycle officers to patrol near crash-prone intersections, Duffy said.
It’s hard to say how much lighter Tucson traffic has become, though it “absolutely” is occurring, said Blake Olofson, a traffic engineer at City Hall.
A precise count would be expensive and impractical because a full-scale count typically is done once a year, he said.
But some trends emerged in the limited research that exists, a joint study between the city and the University of Arizona that used location data from smart phones to assess Tucson’s traffic capacity.
The research showed a noticeable decrease in traffic on Tucson streets when various stay-at-home orders were in place from around mid-March through mid-May.
The trend to higher traffic fatality rates does not extend to roads policed by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department or by Arizona state troopers, those agencies said.
Fatal crashes on county roads stand at 18 so far this year, about the same as last year, officials said.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which polices state highways, has seen a steep decline in fatalities. The death toll so far this year is 160 compared to 200 in 2019, officials said.
At least 11 states from coast to coast have seen spikes in traffic deaths, the National Safety Council said.
The council released a preliminary estimate last month based on April data from all 50 states showing a 36% spike in fatality rate per miles, as the number of miles driven dropped 40%.
In a statement on the safety council’s website, the group’s president and CEO urged drivers to be civic-minded in the era of COVID19.
“Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely,” Lorraine M. Martin said.
“If we won’t do it for ourselves we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our health-care workers who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”
Six sites throughout Tucson handed out masks to residents as a part of the citywide #MaskUpTucson campaign. Each site, located in a respective…
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