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Google Faces More Privacy Challenges

Saturday, May 7th, 2011
 

http://www.tipsntech.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Google_Chrome.jpgApple isn’t the only one answering to the judge over privacy invasion issues – now it’s Google’s turn. In the same manner Apple faces lawsuits over privacy invasion about as often as they eat breakfast, Google is now facing a $50 million class action lawsuit over tracking the movements of Android phone users. Whether or not the suit will be found to have merit is up in the air at this time, but at the least it is another headache for a company that already has it’s legal team working overtime.

Most Android owners know that their device keeps a cache of information from cell tower and WiFi usage. Specifically, the cache consists of the last 50 cell towers and 200 WiFi networks that a user has accessed. What some people have a problem with is that in order to get at that data, the user has to hack their phone as it is not made accessible to them to disable under factory specifications.
If that was the whole of the issue, it would be an easy fix. The real problem that is being presented is that Android devices are set to collect this data about every seven or eight minutes which it then transmits to Google. Google stated that it uses the data they receive for a variety of uses, but they have not disclosed the full scope of what those uses are. Further vexing is that the data can be correlated to specific users as Google employs “deanonymization” techniques which apparently they work very hard to keep one step ahead of those whom hack their Android devices specifically to try to stop it – at least that is the unsubstantiated rumor some on the lawsuit are hoping is true.

Allegations have been made that for those whom are tech savvy enough, this data being transmitted to Google, which is said to be unencrypted, can be intercepted and used to track the whereabouts of any user. The concern is that stalkers can use this to victimize individuals and thieves can use it to plan “smart burglaries” of physical locations as they can track the whereabouts of the occupant(s).

Google maintains that they do not collect any data which each user has not consented to parting with. Their stance is that they only collect location data from users that have opted in for that specific service. The problem being cited in the lawsuit is that they contend the agreement to opt in for the service is written in such a manner that it is not reasonable to believe the average user would understand the depth of the sharing that is present. Others have contended that even though they never opted in for the service, their device still transmits the data anyway.

Is it Google – or Apple’s fault for that fact – if users do not fully familiarize themselves with the agreements before agreeing to them? Their stance is that they present a clear and reasonable agreement and that for users to get the most out of their mobile device it is a necessary feature. At this point, it is up to the courts to decide.

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