Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

Summary: It looks more and more like all mobile systems collect location data about you. This, in turn, has the potential both for great rewards and great abuse.

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In some ways, all the uproar about Apple saving location data on its iOS device users is old news. Guess what? Big Brother, or Big Google, also collects geo-location information from its mobile, Android-powered devices. It’s like anything else in computing: geo-location can provide great services and resources, but it can also be abused.

Take, for example, a woman who was recently robbed in Texas. Using her stolen iPhone, police officers were able to quickly find not only her stolen phone, but her wedding ring as well. Yea!

On the other hand, say another woman is in an abusive relationship and goes to a friend’s house or to a “safe-house” shelter. Her husband tracks her down using her smartphone and literally drags her back “home.”

That last case isn’t fiction. My friend Angela, a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) tells me, “I teach tech-safety courses for domestic-violence survivors. This scenario has a probability of 1. In the two years I've been teaching, we've had multiple instances of abusers using hidden GPS-Bluetooth phone combinations to track vehicles, which sort of totally sucks when the vehicle is now parked at a ‘secret’ women's shelter.”

“Worse, the use of phone ‘family’ plans and fancy smartphones are among the most difficult issues we face in the teaching process,” Angela said. “Most of the women we see are in desperate financial straits; often there's no money for any sort of mobile plan (and we'll leave aside the whole getting-an-account-set-up-under-those-circumstances thing), let alone for a decent phone. Realistically, they know they have to dump the gadget and the plan and so forth, but practically? With so much else happening? Argh.”

How about wanting the local cops to know where you’ve been for the last two weeks? Police already have the technology to grab GPS location data from smartphones including latitude, longitude, altitude and time data. They don’t need sophisticated forensics equipment. In Michigan, cops can do it in a roadside traffic stop in a few minutes.

The cops or the jealous ex don’t even need to get their hands on your smartphone or tablet. Both Apple and Google regularly pull down your location data. Apple, it seems, does it twice a day, while Google updates your location several times an hour.

Why do they need continual access to this information? Beats me. Advertising is what comes first to mind, but do they really need to know where I am around the clock to make sure I get local ads? It strikes me as overkill.

And here’s the part that really worries me. What stops someone from snatching that location data out of the air over the Wi-Fi or 3G/4G network? Do we want a government, say Syria, using this information to track down protesters seen at a recent demonstration? Might Syria’s dictatorship be doing just that with its recent pinpoint kidnapping of activists?

I know there are people who don’t consider it a big deal that Big Companies potentially knows their every move.. I do. There’s a huge difference between information that you opt to give a company when you buy their product or click on a Web ad, and information that flows to them whenever your device is turned on.

Sure, you can opt out by refusing to grant any geo-location app permission to run, but that’s not a viable answer. That’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

The real answer, the better answer, is for Apple and Google to keep only a brief log of where you’ve been, and to stop transmitting this data to the home office. The applications don’t need this comprehensive information; the companies don’t need it, even if they want it; and the potential harm that can result from using the information far outweighs the benefits. Do the right thing, Apple and Google: Get out of the Big Brother business.

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Topics: Google, Apple, Hardware, Mobility, Operating Systems, Smartphones, Telcos

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112 comments
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  • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

    Agree that the only solution is to have Apple, Google, Microsoft, or other software providers for smart phones collect much, much less geo-location data and much less frequently. However, they won't do that unless forced by the government or some legal action, as they view the data they collect as a competitive advantage in a lucrative online advertising market.
    samofdetroit
    • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

      @samofdetroit
      Maybe the government is part of it!?

      Number 6: Where am I?
      Number 2: In the Village.
      Number 6: What do you want?
      Number 2: We want information.
      Number 6: Whose side are you on?
      Number 2: That would be telling. We want information... information... information.
      Number 6: You won't get it.
      Number 2: By hook or by crook, we will.
      Number 6: Who are you?
      Number 2: The new Number 2.
      Number 6: Who is Number 1?
      Number 2: You are Number 6.
      Number 6: I am not a number, I am a free man

      A small tribute to the "The Prisoner",
      The classic TV series from the 60's...
      You know: the one with the funny little car, gigantic balloon and no end?

      http://www.mobilespoon.net/2011/04/what-do-you-want-want-information.html
      MobileSpoon
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @MobileSpoon

        This was my very 1st thought - The government is definitely behind it
        fortgo
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @MobileSpoon <br><br>HaHaHaHa I miss that show used to watch it an TV land....<br>If I had the choice to turn of geosinc I would but unless I put it in Airplane mode they can cach where I've been. this however is nothing new since I've had a cell phone they have had the ability to track that phone just now the technology is easily assessable to the masses (and by masses I me Advertisers).
        nickitnite
      • 1984...the Novel

        @MobileSpoon Read 1984 again. Perhaps the novel should have been titled 2010. Orson Wells was magnificent in predicting the future...only his time line was out a bit...I really encourage all to read it.
        Bradish@...
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @MobileSpoon
        You might want to read it again, too. At least the cover.
        Orson wells may have been renowned for his acting, as well as his eating, but predicting the future? Not so much.
        DeusXMachina
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @MobileSpoon How soon everyone forgets. The US government mandated GPS in cell phones just after 9/11. The excuse was that they would have been able to find the survivors easier if they could pinpoint their location on the GPS. Americans were afraid at the time and who could blame them? Frightened people can easily be talked into giving up freedoms. Now they have a tracking device in the pockets of almost everyone in America. Back then, only business people had BlackBerries. The rest had "dumb" phones. I saw this coming ten years ago.
        Muttz
    • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

      @samofdetroit

      Ummm...I didn't see anything about MS WP-7 listed here so let's not include them in this. This could be a golden opportunity for MS to impale Google and Apple with a privacy driven add. This whole thing is an outrage anyone who thinks otherwise doesn't care about privacy and probably hasn't studied much history because power like this can be abused and used as a way to "control" who, how and what we interact with based off our tendencies. Google and Apple I don't support and because of this they won't see a penny from me. Hello Bing and Hello WP7.
      Rob.sharp
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @rob.sharp

        "This whole thing is an outrage anyone who thinks otherwise doesn't care about privacy and probably hasn't studied much history because power like this can be abused and used as a way to "control" who, how and what we interact with based off our tendencies.

        Or actually understands the issues and knows the truth, not the bogus misinformation spoon-fed to them by a sensationalist, equally uninformed tech press.
        DeusXMachina
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @rob.sharp@...
        WP7, you must be naive, microsoft have been secretly! sending data back from all their operating systems for decades, you think WP7 will be different. The only difference is that now it has a greater effect on our lives. Atleast with android it's open source so it is difficult to hide things, search engine providers obviously have great interest in this info, which includes microsoft and google. Microsoft cover themselves with deviously misleading and vague statements all the time.

        I quote from microsoft (source="http://wmpoweruser.com/unlike-apple-microsoft-does-not-track-wp7-users/")

        "Asking Microsoft the same question about Windows Phone 7, the company confirmed the only locational data stored on your Windows Phone 7 device is your last known location, for use with the Find My Phone feature."

        If it's not stored but kept in memory and sent back every so often their statement is not wrong. If they send back the last known location twice a second it is not wrong. They have lied completely in the past, so the statement may not even be correct.
        kevlar700
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @rob.sharp@... It's in WP7, count on it. Many of the services of smartphones, or even regular cell phones, as SJVN notes require it. Microsoft, or the cell carriers WILL monitize the information. They already do.
        YetAnotherBob
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        If you had read the articles you would have realized that Apple is not gathering and storing the data, it is being done by your iPhone and then synced with a file on you desktop computer when you 'sync'. You could adjust your settings to encrypt the data in both locations or you could 'jail break' your iPhone and delete the file. Also, do allow apps that ask to store your location if that is not advantageous to you. That is if you took the time to do the research and were able to understand what you read.
        john_gillespie@...
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @rob.sharp@...
        Ummm.... Microsoft tracks and caches your stuff to dude.... If you got a cell phone your able to be tracked but the matter is cacheing and keeping a long list of your locations to get your trends and stuff... but it's not just Cell phones it's Facebook.com and Myspace.com Google.com bing.com you think MS has the darn passport thing for your convenience?
        nickitnite
    • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

      @samofdetroit

      "...old news." Really? You and and people like you are why companies continue to violate our privacy more and more each year. Just because Google is doing it as well doesn't make it OK. Americans have become so lazy and complacent we've allowed our freedoms to slowly be stripped a little at a time.

      It's not OK for any company to track my location without my explicit consent. It should not be an opt out option but rather an opt in option.
      Masari.Jones
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @Masari.Jones

        Apple does not track your location, so what is your point?
        DeusXMachina
      • Others not like iOS

        @Masari.Jones
        While Android and other phones may have your CURRENT location sent to them in order to provide you with proper services, that data is not stored outside their servers if it is stored at all.
        Should you become a "person of interest" in an investigation, that gives the government authorities the ability to track your location from the time they get a warrant forward. It does not give them a full accounting of where you have been since July 2010.

        BIG DIFFERENCE!!
        haugens
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @Masari.Jones - I don't care about companies violating my privacy. If they want to know the color of my last bowel movement, good for them. All companies want is *money*. They use that information as a way to offer me things I might take in exchange for money.

        I'm concerned about the government violating my privacy. If Big Brother wants to know the color of my last bowel movement, he can stick his face in it.
        People who go into government are not as interested in money as they are interested in power over other people. With power over other people, they will get money, and they can use their power and other people's money to build the demented utopia they know we all need but are too incompetent to build for ourselves without their megalomaniacal guidance.
        hiraghm@...
      • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

        @Masari.Jones Carriers have been REQUIRED to do this for some time now by law with no opt in and absolutely no way to opt out, are you going to stop using any kind of cell phone what so ever?
        non-biased
    • RE: Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother

      @samofdetroit
      For Google, it is a benefit for Google or any map company to collect data where the road is. We often complain how GPS is so outdated for years. Google GPS / Map has us the drivers update the map as we drive. This is a good thing to me. As long as the data is anonymous... Garmin lose out big time if they don't do it.
      padraicley
    • Say it ain't so...

      I think that even if these groups say they'll turn this "off" we must assume that it won't really happen. I'm ***FAR*** less concerned about companies seeing this data than the government.

      These days, it takes *very little* to become an "enemy of the state," and I'm quite certain that this information will be used against free citizens soon if it's not already.

      I must say that this realization has put-me off of buying any smartphone...
      renee.blatchely@...