Google defends mobile privacy standards at Senate hearing

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.

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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

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13 comments
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  • Mostly hot air about nothing.

    S. Jobs is right. It is a result of lack of education and understanding of the technology.
    Bruizer
    • I agree, we just need to know it is being used for our applications and not

      sold or used by Google or third parties. If it is completely randomized and used to show the most popular routes in a park, for instance, that is ok.
      DonnieBoy
      • Of course it is sold and used by third parties.

        @DonnieBoy

        Google has pretty good services but almost none of the users of those services are customers; they are almost all products. That is the price of "free" and "open".

        Given that Google is an advertising company, of course your location data is used to target location based advertisements in banner ads and basic search. If you want Google's vision of "free" and "open", this is the price it comes with.
        Bruizer
      • RE: Google defends mobile privacy standards at Senate hearing

        @Bruizer, are you that Stupid? What do you think Apple is doing with that data? Seriously, How do you think they're improving their location services if they are not using that data?
        slickjim
      • @Peter Perry

        Based on your posting history, I am much smarter than you but that is not saying much.

        Apple has already said (and it is confirmed) that if you opt-in to sharing location data, cell tower and WiFi net data is sent back to Apple to form a crowd sourced location service. They never send the location of the phone back. iAD is not very location aware and targets larger "aspirational" advertising by large multi-nationals. I always questioned Apple's intentions on getting into Ads and based on their performance, it is best left to people that do it better. Apple's heart is not into marketing other peoples wares.

        Google does pretty much the same but also sends back the exact phone position (anonymized). They use this for things like targeted classified style advertising and traffic flow data (pretty darn cool application if you ask me). But their primary use is to sell that location data for targeted advertisements.

        This does not change the basic position that with Google, their users are basically products and with Apple, their users are customers.
        Bruizer
  • We just need to have complete control knowledge of what data is collected,

    and what applications use it. In the end, this data CAN be used for very innovative applications that are of great value to users, but, privacy must be respected.
    DonnieBoy
  • we can trust google

    because the software is open source.
    Linux Geek
    • RE: Google defends mobile privacy standards at Senate hearing

      @Linux Geek LOL....
      ItsTheBottomLine
  • RE: Google defends mobile privacy standards at Senate hearing

    hi, how far the Google delay to provide the Internet service providers....??? meet again.

    www.amrithaa.com
    amrithaa2011
  • BIGSIS: OMGWTFALQAEDA

    The CongressCritters who today are grandstanding about your privacy are the same ones who required cell phone manufacturers to put GPS in all the phones so they could be tracked.

    And now they're requiring that cell phones get a new chip that will allow Homeland Security to send you text messages, probably to let you know they're coming over to grab your junk.
    Robert Hahn
  • RE: Google defends mobile privacy standards at Senate hearing

    Hehehe, you guys make me laugh is it really that new to you that companies can track you down?... I mean, have you ever heard of the ip tracing technology? No1 said anything until a few screemed "heey this folks are tracking me down and i see a bright red light on my iFone".

    Seriously this is not new, and if you ask me the advertisment programming behind google products is AMAZING!!!.. The Spam is reduced at a great lvl and I can take advantaje of things going on all around me.

    There are more dangerous and invasive ways to use the tracking technologies, like governments tryin to do "good" things.
    lbaltodano
  • RE: Google defends mobile privacy standards at Senate hearing

    I don't care if Google or Apple track my phone. All they want to do is get me to buy stuff, or sell the info to people who want me to buy stuff. That's fine by me, I can always say "no".

    My concern is the *government* getting that info. Unlike businesses, government wants to control every single aspect of my life; it's what those bureaucrats live for and get off on.

    But, I don't see that joke of a senator, Franken, promoting any legislation that would not prevent Google and Apple from collecting positional info in order to serve me better, yet would prevent them from, under any circumstances, sharing that information with any level of government.

    I feel like the communists are trying to protect me from the capitalists...not a good feeling.
    hiraghm@...
  • RE: Google defends mobile privacy standards at Senate hearing

    ya klOOwn how are those stupid idiotic clDR/ones spoused to zero in,,,smile for the phonee camera now,,,damm klOOwnzz
    ampjack