Google defends mobile privacy standards at Senate hearing

Summary:There's been a huge uproar over regarding location-based services and tracking over the last two weeks. Questions regarding privacy have become so pertinent that some of the biggest tech companies have been asked to testify to Congress.

There's been a huge uproar over regarding location-based services and tracking over the last two weeks. Questions regarding privacy have become so pertinent that some of the biggest tech companies have been asked to testify to Congress.

Most of the qualms arose after it was discovered that iOS and Android mobile devices were tracking detailed geolocation information and sending it back to Apple and Google. Apple CEO Steve Jobs responded eventually that part of the problem was really a "bug," but also that certain data is held by Apple for up to a week.

Other mobile OS makers could definitely be asked to answer some questions as well, but Google is being pinned up as one of the major culprits here - if one believes there is a problem. And based on Google's submitted testimony today, the Mountain View company is sticking by its existing policies.

Speaking to a Senate judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law, Google's Director of Public Policy Alan Davidson said in a statement:

While location-based services are already showing great value to users, Google recognizes the particular privacy concerns that come with the collection and storage of location information. That’s why we don’t collect any location information — any at all — through our location services on Android devices unless the user specifically chooses to share this information with Google. We also give users clear notice and control; the set-up process asks users if they would like to “allow Google’s location service to collect anonymous location data.”

And even after opting in, we give users a way to easily turn off location sharing with Google at any time they wish. The location services in our Android operating system embody the transparency and control principles that we use to guide our privacy process.

Besides some of the obviously useful location-based services (i.e. using the GPS to find the directions based on a the user's current location), Davidson offered third-party apps as examples, including Twitter, Foursquare and Yelp.

Additionally, Davidson affirmed that Google never sells "users’ personally identifiable information." Although what kinds of information weren't specified, some of it is definitely stored on Google servers. However, Google promises that the information is "anonymized and stored in the aggregate and is not tied or traceable to a specific user."

Even though users have the choice to opt-in to location sharing, there are plenty of unanswered questions left. Google execs haven't provided information as to how long the data is stored, nor how this data might be used either by Google or third parties in the future.

Location-based services are certainly useful on mobile devices when it comes to maps, finding restaurants and showing off a current location to friends on Facebook. But beyond these uses, Google needs to offer more concrete answers as to why it is necessary to track and store such information on its users.

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Topics: Google, Enterprise Software, Mobility, Security

About

Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for MainStreet.com, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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