Google: Of Course Our Location-based Services Require Your Location Info

Published on April 22, 2011
by Ina Fried

Google responded to concerns over how its Android operating system uses location information by noting that data is essential to certain services, such as customized mapping and providing information on nearby services.

Both mapping and search, for example, use location information to provide results tailored to where a device is at.

However, Google stressed such services are optional and that even for those users that opt in, the information is not tied to a Google account or other personally identifiable information. The information is uniquely identified per device, but that unique identifier is an anonymized token, as opposed to being tied to other information, according to Google.

“All location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user,” Google said in a statement to Mobilized. “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.”

Those that opt out can still use maps and search on their phone, but would have an experience that doesn’t tie to their specific location and would be more similar to the experience of using Google’s search and maps on a desktop or laptop computer.

Questions about what location-based information Android makes use of followed reports that Apple’s iPhone and 3G-equipped iPads are storing a history of location information in an unencrypted database on the device. The Wall Street Journal on Thursday noted that both Android and Apple devices are sending certain location information back to the companies.

In addition to that issue, there are separate issues over the length of time such information is stored, both on the device and by Apple and Google. The iPhone (and 3G-equipped iPads) appear to be storing a long-term directory of where a device has been and keeping that information in an unencrypted database. Google keeps a small cache of such information, to allow mapping and search to work even if a device temporarily loses GPS signal. However, it doesn’t keep a long-term record on the device.

Apple has not responded to requests for comment on how it uses location information.

The company did disclose some information last year on the information it collects in a letter to Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachussetts. However, congressman Markey said in a statement this week that he is still concerned and sent additional questions to Apple.

“Apple needs to safeguard the personal location information of its users to ensure that an iPhone doesn’t become an iTrack,” Markey said. “Collecting, storing and disclosing a consumer’s location for commercial purposes without their express permission is unacceptable and would violate current law.”

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