Google continues to be dismissive over the public’s concerns regarding the ability of its mobile devices to send precise user locations back to its servers. Google has been collecting the location information from millions of mobile phone and devices stating that the information was "extremely important" to the direction of the company’s future.
Andy Rubin, Senior Vice President of Mobile at Google wrote to Larry Page, founder and now CEO, explaining that location data from mobile phones was "extremely valuable to Google," especially given the privacy blow-up concerning its Street View cars at the time.
Google is suspected in gathering the personal data of portal users from October to May through various Wi-Fi networks during the implementation of its controversial street view program last year. Resulting investigations in the US, Germany Korea and Australia has forced Google to acquire this data through alternate means.
Google location manager Steve Lee told founder Page in the memo: "I cannot stress enough how important Google’s wifi location database is to our Android and mobile product strategy," "We absolutely do care about this because we need wifi data collection in order to maintain and improve our wifi location service."
Google plans to use the data to create a database of Wi-Fi hotspots, for improving their Google maps services and to establish their increasing geo-specific advertising market.
A researcher from Los Angeles, Sammy Kamkar showed how Google Android smart phones where transmitting GPS locations and other data back to Google up to “several times an hour.”
The biggest concern that arises from this data collection comes if the data is compromised and falls into the wrong hands. The data is precise enough to allow a person to correlate the timing and the frequency of phone usage to pinpoint the home address of an Android phone user.
"If your phone is at the same location during night hours, they know where you live," says Kamkar. "If your phone location is on the move, they can guess that you’re in a car and even calculate how fast your car is moving."
How it Works:
The Google Android system collects information about surrounding Wi-Fi networks and nearby cell towers. It is then uploaded and stored in a cache file. Unlike Apple’s iOS, there is a limit on the size of the file, so only the last 200 Wi-Fi networks and 50 cell tower locations are recorded. The data is transmitted along with a unique identifier for the phone itself, and is unencrypted.
Last week Google issued the following statement: "all location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user." and that "we provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user."
Recently, Apple has become the target of a class action suit and both companies are now under increasing scrutiny. Both Google and Apple are expected to testify on May 10 to Congress about its data collecting practices.