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Google Privacy Your Rights Online

Your Location 'Extremely Valuable' To Google 164

Posted by timothy
from the rather-important-to-me-too dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Google recently wrote off concerns about its mobile devices sending precise user location data back to its servers, but recently uncovered emails illustrate that user location is instrumental in its strategy. Andy Rubin, Senior Vice President of Mobile at Google, wrote to Larry Page, founder and now CEO, explaining that location data from mobile phones was 'extremely valuable to Google,' especially given the privacy blow-up concerning its Street View cars at the time."
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Your Location 'Extremely Valuable' To Google

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  • Considering I'm in China right now...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by xMrFishx (1956084)
      Course they can, they just pay some chinese kid to follow you instead of doing it digitally. Call it analogue tracking systems...
      • But how does the Chinese kid report back to google? Paper aeroplane "packets" over the border, or TCP/IP over Avian Carrier? :P

    • by vlm (69642)

      Considering I'm in China right now...
      --
      My Sig spits 40 cal lead...

      Completely off topic, but the combo of your quote and sig ... uh, signature ... makes me ask what gun control is like in China. Is it traditional 3rd world where no one cares as long as you flash cash, or is it somewhere on the semi-civilized continuum of NYC to NH, or they just don't care, or perhaps some fourth philosophy?

      Back on topic, I'd think for demographic research, GOOG would love to sell your apparent hobby interest to retailers and probably manufacturers. So mr gunsmith our GOOG report shows th

  • by MagusSlurpy (592575) on Monday May 02, 2011 @08:23AM (#35998838) Homepage
    . . . had been more of an early adopter. . .
  • I'm at home on my computer.

    slashdot you owe me like 20 billion dollars now btw, i know how much this stuff is worth cause i read about it on slashdot.

    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      Sure thing. Just give us your bank account details and transfer $1000 to our bank account to cover initial expenses required to release the funds.

      I'm on my computer in Nigeria.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 02, 2011 @08:28AM (#35998864)

    It should be illegal to collect and retain location data of any kind on anyone for any reason short of a duly issued warrant. Maps,etc, can query Google and info returned, just no logs kept at all. Why not? The only people that would be against this are people that want to maintain control of some kind. Smartphones are just the thin edge of a wedge of the death of personal privacy.

    Let's see, your smartphone is:

    1. a location-tracking device showing where you are, have been, and may be going
    2. a veritable microphone listening device
    3. a record of who you know and communicate with

    What more could they want? People say the data these devices generate and store won't be misused. Bah! They are misused everyday and everyone knows it. The fact this stuff has come to light will in no way alter, stop, or slow down the tracking of people. We need some serious privacy laws, even more strict that say, Germany, has. People have a right to not be tracked and databased at every turn. This is the reason I have basically stopped using Google products.

    • They are not named cell phones because they can be smuggeld easy into a prison cell, they are called that way because the phone can determine easily what cell it it in. Telephone carriers always had access to this information. You might not have been aware that that data was available and stored. (e.g. in poland you can see the streetname you are walking in because the cell are note named ONLY after the provider).

      The whole problem is that companies should announce that they collect this information and what

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        >>>>>The only people that would be against this are people that want to maintain control of some kind

        AKA politicians

        >>Not using products from x.com is not the solution.

        It's a start. It's what drove Circuit Shitty into bankruptcy. And forced Sega out of the console business. Just imagine if we started boycotting Sony or Comcast or Google.

    • by eepok (545733)

      "It should be illegal to collect and retain location data of any kind on anyone for any reason short of a duly issued warrant."

      For whom? Are you suggesting it be illegal for anyone to retain the location of anyone else?

      (Genuine. innocent question... not trying to troll.)

  • TFA only quotes 4 words that are in the email, and completely fails to mention any other details.
    Every piece of information about your customers/users is extremely valuable. But it depends on what you do with it; how you get it; and how you protect it.

    • by joh (27088) on Monday May 02, 2011 @09:00AM (#35999156)

      Every piece of information about your customers/users is extremely valuable. But it depends on what you do with it; how you get it; and how you protect it.

      I think there is a huge difference between having information about your customers as a group (or as sub-groups) and having information about identifiable customers. There's nothing wrong with Google (or Apple) knowing that 500 customers are at a certain point on a road and not moving since an hour. But there's everything wrong with being able to know who these customers are or being able to track every single one of them over days, weeks or months.

      And the point is not what you do with this information or how you get it: The point should be to make sure by technical means that you CAN'T get such personal information to begin with. As soon as we have to trust companies to not abuse such information it's too late. Exactly this is the reason that Big Brother in 1984 was called Big Brother (and not Evil Bully): It's the seemingly benign, well-meaning and powerful entity you trust and get abused by.

      Location data that is anonymous (or uses random IDs that frequently change) can't be abused easily. You can use this to count devices in a certain place or to deliver ads to the right devices but since you have no idea which phone the data comes from and who owns the phone there's a limit what you can do with it. It's enough information to offer useful services from it and not enough to abuse it.

      • by vlm (69642) on Monday May 02, 2011 @09:16AM (#35999344)

        Location data that is anonymous (or uses random IDs that frequently change) can't be abused easily

        Sure it can, any time you are in the real world.

        GOOG report shows "The anonymous owner of this phone supports rights for X people, where X is a minority opinion" therefore evil majority member guy beats up the anonymous phone's owner. I only used majority / minority language to gain support, its just as evil when swapped around or there is no majority / minority issue.

        There is also a semi-anonymous failure mode. "The anonymous owner of this phone, which happens to be located at the Lat/Lon coordinates of this interview room, often visits websites which are mostly popular amongst people of the political persuasion generally opposite to yours". Result -> "I'm sorry to inform you we found a candidate more closely suited to the position, who would be a better fit with the team."

        • by joh (27088)

          Location data that is anonymous (or uses random IDs that frequently change) can't be abused easily

          Sure it can, any time you are in the real world.

          GOOG report shows "The anonymous owner of this phone supports rights for X people, where X is a minority opinion" therefore evil majority member guy beats up the anonymous phone's owner. I only used majority / minority language to gain support, its just as evil when swapped around or there is no majority / minority issue.

          There is also a semi-anonymous failure mode. "The anonymous owner of this phone, which happens to be located at the Lat/Lon coordinates of this interview room, often visits websites which are mostly popular amongst people of the political persuasion generally opposite to yours". Result -> "I'm sorry to inform you we found a candidate more closely suited to the position, who would be a better fit with the team."

          This is only possible if the random ID does not change all the time and if the same ID is used to tag other data than the location.

          If all you have is millions of datasets consisting of a random ID and an associated location, how do you do what you're describing with that?

          What you're describing is exactly what's possible if you use a Unique Device ID which never (or very rarely) changes and if you use the same ID for many different things. Well, exactly this is what Google does with Android and AdMob, but it

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        location based offers and such are not bad - if you request them. that didn't work too well previously. and people are catching on that offers are just adverts with a different name, somebody has already tried to sell them socks for only the price of shipping

        however, it's about pushing them to your face where they see the possibility, and that's why they need lightweight, like cellid, based solutions to that. and to build that they need users who are willing to run around with gps enabled for them whilst se

  • Its no surprise that if you know where someone is you can deliver more targeted results. Is this really news? Besides, Google has a good track record of protecting consumer privacy and making it clear what they collect. Apple collected all their data without telling users and Facebook has a track record of both violating privacy as default policy and refusing to share it with others.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Strange I had to google it and find non google sources to tell me what they collect on my android mobile. But hey double standards is one of the official slashdot standards (even iso carry on !

    • by alen (225700)

      you think they collect this data just to sit in some database? they sell it to third parties to sell you ads, metrics and other marketing purposes

      • by rips123 (654488)

        you think they collect this data just to sit in some database? they sell it to third parties to sell you ads, metrics and other marketing purposes

        Really? Please point me to one piece of solid evidence to that effect. If you can I'll run and delete my Google accounts right now. They sell ads so sure, they probably target ads with some model made from aggregate location data from lots of users but I have never found anything to suggest that they sell, or would ever sell this data to third parties. There is just too much for them to lose. They built their brand on the respect of the tech industry. Why would they ever throw that away? It would be stupid.

        • "Really? Please point me to one piece of solid evidence to that effect. If you can I'll run and delete my Google accounts right now. They sell ads so sure, they probably target ads with some model made from aggregate location data from lots of users but I have never found anything to suggest that they sell, or would ever sell this data to third parties. "

          Here's one version.

          One of the firefox addons called Ghostery identifies all the trackers on a page, as it blocks them. So imagine your typical page, like s

      • They also use it to locate you in Google Maps if your phone isn't GPS enabled. It could find me inside my house even when running on my Nokia E65.

        Firefox [mozilla.com] also uses Google's service to provide your location to websites (IF you allow it) by scanning the local area for known APs.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Facebook has a track record of both violating privacy as default policy and refusing to share it with others.

      And seemingly randomly changing policy. They're all kinda bad about this, I just think FB achieves the "worst in class".

      Off the top of my head I can't remember GOOG ever changing policies... Maybe on something no one uses, so we never hear about it?

      Apple pops up a new 50 page itunes agreement every week, but it never seems much different than last weeks agreement.

      • by node 3 (115640)

        Facebook has a track record of both violating privacy as default policy and refusing to share it with others.

        And seemingly randomly changing policy. They're all kinda bad about this, I just think FB achieves the "worst in class".

        Off the top of my head I can't remember GOOG ever changing policies... Maybe on something no one uses, so we never hear about it?

        That's because Google's policy is that they have the right to use every bit of data you give them. They even got into hot water with book publishers and TV networks for using their data without permission.

        And they have changed their policies publicly from time to time, usually referring to how long they keep their data intact before anonymizing it, and have also changed public warnings about how a few of their most egregious privacy concerns work, like search history.

        Apple pops up a new 50 page itunes agreement every week, but it never seems much different than last weeks agreement.

        Good job at making it sound scary ("50 p

    • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Monday May 02, 2011 @09:20AM (#35999374)

      Apple is in the business of selling hardware and software. Theirs is a Business-to-Consumer model.

      Google is in the business of selling you. Theirs is a Business-to-Business model, like the fisherman who puts a free worm on his hook, catches the fish, and sells it to market. Unfortunately for the fish, it never questioned why a free worm was just sort of dangling there in the water.

      Google provides free software, e-books, search engines, etc., as its bait. And based upon your slavish fanboi gushing, you've fallen for it hook, line, and sinker...

      • by rips123 (654488)

        Google provides free software, e-books, search engines, etc., as its bait. And based upon your slavish fanboi gushing, you've fallen for it hook, line, and sinker...

        I'm not trying to be a "fanboi" and I'm still confused. You've listed what I gain but what exactly have I lost? My privacy? Don't I already lose that to Facebook and Apple? My point still stands.

        • by sydneyfong (410107) on Monday May 02, 2011 @10:28AM (#36000048) Homepage Journal

          If your claim is only that "you lose nothing extra" since Apple and Facebook already sells your info, then you *may* have a point.

          But all is lost when you say Google handles it with a "good track record". What makes you think that? Sure, with Facebook you're literally giving away your private information, but Google works very hard to build a profile of you, without you noticing, and has an established business in selling these information to advertisers.

          I'm not saying Apple and Facebook are saints when it comes to these matters, but you're truly tending towards fanboy-dom when you think that Google, which almost solely relies on such things to survive, is any better than the other two.

          I mean, I hope you're not those who reads this news and think "meh, what's the big deal, Apple does it too" -- while being outraged at the evil Apple empire a week ago when the news about iPhone location tracking surfaced.

          • by rips123 (654488)
            Its not blind complacency I have. I really wish there were a way to share anonymised location data, anonymised email addresses and anonymised contact lists and with ALL these guys. I want the benefits but not the privacy implications as much as the next guy. I just happen to believe that Google still has its hippy "for the user" mentality at heart whereas Apple and Facebook are out to get what they can. Maybe I'm delusional? *shrug*
        • by node 3 (115640)

          Google provides free software, e-books, search engines, etc., as its bait. And based upon your slavish fanboi gushing, you've fallen for it hook, line, and sinker...

          I'm not trying to be a "fanboi" and I'm still confused. You've listed what I gain but what exactly have I lost? My privacy? Don't I already lose that to Facebook and Apple? My point still stands.

          You lose far more privacy to Google than Apple. Many orders more. Google even outshines Facebook as a data collector. The only real difference is that Facebook's data is made more publicly available.

          But if you don't think Google isn't the biggest Big Brother ever to exist, you have been misled.

      • >>Apple is in the business of selling hardware and software. Theirs is a Business-to-Consumer model.

        Not any more, ads might have the biggest profit margin, even bigger then software, so Apple will start doing ads sooner or later, that means they gonna emulate Google including user tracking.
      • Unfortunately for the fish, it never questioned why a free worm was just sort of dangling there in the water.

        Do you really think people don't know that Google is ad-supported? Do you think they don't question the economics of offering services "for free"? That they don't notice the ads?

    • by node 3 (115640)

      Its no surprise that if you know where someone is you can deliver more targeted results. Is this really news? Besides, Google has a good track record of protecting consumer privacy and making it clear what they collect. Apple collected all their data without telling users and Facebook has a track record of both violating privacy as default policy and refusing to share it with others.

      What a load of shit. Google collects everything you do using Google services, and they don't "make it clear" what they collect (unless the answer is "everything"). They also, unlike Apple, don't anonymize the data from the outset.

      You're pretty much right about Facebook though. But Google invades privacy far more than any other corporation on Earth. In fact, that collected data is the very foundation of their business.

      Apple never collected data without telling its users and they have always made it clear tha

  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Monday May 02, 2011 @08:44AM (#35998978)
    Of *course* your location is important to them. Google is an advertising company; geographically targeted adverising is in high demand.

    The issue people have is when Google (or anyone else) collects this data without any consent, and without adequate warning that it is being collected.

    Google is also keeping all of the money for itself, and is not passing any of it on to the users who supplied the data. If your smartphone paid you cash for every day you allow them to track your data, people would not be objecting so loudly.
    • by rips123 (654488)

      Google is also keeping all of the money for itself, and is not passing any of it on to the users who supplied the data. If your smartphone paid you cash for every day you allow them to track your data, people would not be objecting so loudly.

      Also, that smart phone is likely loaded with crapware that is difficult or impossible to uninstall. The manufacturer/carrier is making money from that and you can bet your bottom dollar that the carriers are tracking you for network-planning and what-not but you'll never be able to opt-out of that. The difference with all this stuff comes down to the way its implemented. *IF* its done in a way to secure your privacy (e.g. by purposely randomising your location within a certain distance and not storing any

    • Google is also keeping all of the money for itself, and is not passing any of it on to the users who supplied the data.

      Google pays with access to its services.

      I think this companies should be legally required to provide warnings about such tracking before letting you use their services (and not hidden in the fourteenth page of its EULA), but to claim that they provide nothing in return is simply not true.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        Google is also keeping all of the money for itself, and is not passing any of it on to the users who supplied the data.

        Google pays with access to its services.

        I think this companies should be legally required to provide warnings about such tracking before letting you use their services (and not hidden in the fourteenth page of its EULA), but to claim that they provide nothing in return is simply not true.

        People forget that Google services are opt in. When you start up an unconfigured Android phone you have to tick that you accept that some data will be shared, if you dont tick it or sign onto a google account it doesn't do it.

        Even when you turn on and off "use wireless networks" under Settings->Location you get a warning that data may be collected and a chance to say no.

        It's not like some hacker found this info whilst messing around on something completely unrelated.

    • Google is also keeping all of the money for itself, and is not passing any of it on to the users who supplied the data. If your smartphone paid you cash for every day you allow them to track your data, people would not be objecting so loudly.

      Well, Google is, but indirectly, and its questionable exactly how much you benefit. Google allows phone manufacturers and networks to share some of the profits they get from people using their Android-based phones. This means that your service is potentially cheaper.

    • Google is also keeping all of the money for itself, and is not passing any of it on to the users who supplied the data. If your smartphone paid you cash for every day you allow them to track your data, people would not be objecting so loudly.

      Duh. You get this "free" and "open" (whatever it means these days) Android platform. Which is why people seem to complain less about Google doing this than Apple with iPhone/iOS, because those things are "expensive".

    • by fermion (181285)
      I agree. The issue that Google has it that is always has collected information on users without explicit consent, beyond the DCMA, and so it is used to doing so. The difference is that prior to this the information collected was generic usage information. Abig difference was that Google provided a free service, search, mail, docs, in exchange for such information. In this way it provides a good value.

      So Google is used to collecting data, and users are used to give it. Apple users are not so used to

    • by PPH (736903)

      Of *course* your location is important to them. Google is an advertising company; geographically targeted adverising is in high demand.

      And that's fine with me. But that's not the issue with data collection. Once its collected, it can be saved. Or worse yet, the gov't will step in and mandate that it be saved for law enforcement purposes. But once piles of data are sitting on a server someplace, some unauthorized person will access it.

      One day, someone will get their hands on this Google data and filter out all the devices that travel to a certain location in Langley, VA. And sell it to the Chinese. And then who will be crying?

    • There is a dialog when you first boot your new Android phone asking if you consent to your new phone collecting anonymous location based data, for the purpose of sending it back Google to enhance services. I selected "No" and went on to the next screen. Now there's more of an issue if they collect and send the data anyway, after the user has opted out. TFA even states that users are able to opt out at any time, by selecting a setting on their phones. The point is that users are given warning, and an eas
  • I didn't realize my location was so valuable. So where's MY share of the money?!

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      Instead of giving you money, Google gives you free software:
      - search engine
      - email
      - online book reader
      - google docs
      - et cetera

    • by Hatta (162192)

      In your pocket. If you can keep it, you get to keep it.

  • Is there an android app where I can make my phone report a location of my choosing, rather than where I really am?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There's an android app that lets you report no location at all. It's called 'Your Phone's Settings Menu'.

      • by ron_ivi (607351)

        Ok - but say I actually wanted location-based services, but not necessarily for the location I'm in.

        Like I work in the south-east bay but live in, and expect to have dinner in, and do most of my shopping in San Francisco.

        It'd just about always be more useful for me if my phone thought I'm near where I live than where I work.

  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Monday May 02, 2011 @09:06AM (#35999220) Journal
    ... it must be o.k. After all, if you can't trust a company with a motto like "Don't be evil", who could you trust. It did occur to me though, that if you wanted to be evil, "Don't be evil" would probably be a pretty good motto.
    • by nschubach (922175)

      It would be a terrible motto if you wanted to be evil... previous Google stories here prove that. It gives people (like you) something to bring up every time there's a story about them that and gives that person a way to push their viewpoint.

      If you truly wanted to be evil, you'd want a low profile, no public comments, as little interaction as possible. You'd dish out information in small chunks. Preferably those that you've indexed in your ultimate index of the Internet so that the users don't suspect yo

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Wasn't Android going to be open? Why are you keeping HoneyComb's source code locked behind the Google doors? Fucking hypocrite!
  • Your location 'extremely valuable' to Google

    That's right, asset tracking is important.

  • From the paper that obtained the emails: http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_17960065 [mercurynews.com]
  • FBI? Police? Divorce lawyer? Boss? Neighbor? Retailers? Stranger who finds your phone?

    You personally may be reason to worry. And any escalation of private data collection needs to be considered carefully - it is just a step, and there will be future steps based on acceptance of this one. Being concerned is probably appropriate, but panicking is probably an overreaction.

    But for most of your "enemies" this is not something to worry about. Your wife, boss, and neighbor don't have access to this data unless you end up in court and you probably did something else to tip them off first and in the past they could have hired someone to follow you.

    FBI & police have been tracking people pretty well for a long time with credit card purchases, phone taps, security cameras, cell phone location, door-to-door interviews, APBs, etc. If you're running from them, you probably avoid these. But if they want to find out where you were all day last Tuesday when you weren't trying to avoid them, they can probably get as close as google's data.

    Stores have been tracking you with credit cards, loyalty cards, etc. They probably don't care what you did all day.

    A hacker breaking into google's data may be able to find patterns to know when someone is not at home or is on a deserted street. But it's probably a lot more effort and more dangerous to use that than search for credit cards in the data. They'd want to do a stakeout anyhow to verify so why not pick a target first rather than using location data to pick a random target.

    • by PPH (736903)

      But for most of your "enemies" this is not something to worry about. Your wife, boss, and neighbor don't have access to this data unless you end up in court and you probably did something else to tip them off first and in the past they could have hired someone to follow you.

      Think so? Its very easy to get information out of the police or FBI with the right connections and a little social engineering. While that information isn't of any use as evidence, I can think of a few cases where I don't want third parties knowing where I'm going or who I'm talking to.

    • Yes, this information could have been dug up on you before, but consider your example of your wife used to have to hire someone to follow you. To get to that point she had to have enough suspicions to lay down a few hundred in order to have them confirmed. Now she'll just plug your iphone into her computer while your in the shower and find out where you've been.

      Although that was another article, the situation and fears are the same. The easier it gets to know information about people, the less your enemies,

  • If it's so valuable to them, how much will they pay me for it?

  • If it's so valuable, how about they start a service where they pay for it directly. You sign up, and you get x dollars every day you let them track your location data.

    • Depends - would you like to start paying for searching and mapping services? How likely are you to make a profit if you start getting charged $100/yr for map access (retail cost for maps through garmin) plus $0.01/MB of data transfer? What about regular search? Voice searches at $1/each like the phone company information line?

      Be careful what you wish for...

    • by Americano (920576)

      I bet they'd be happy to, as long as you're also willing to pay for Gmail, Google's search engine, and all the other free stuff they give you today.

  • Bad article, worse summary. Google isn't, like, quantizing your habits or anything. Or, maybe they do, but at the very least that isn't what the emails say.

    "I cannot stress enough how important Google's wifi location database is to our Android and mobile product strategy," Google location manager Steve Lee told founder Page in the memo. "We absolutely do care about this because we need wifi data collection in order to maintain and improve our wifi location service."

    It's not a database of your location, it's a crowd-sourced database of positioning information used to help users determine their location. When you encounter a previously unrecorded wifi network or somesuch and you're using this feature (it has a disclaimer about this), you anonymously add it to Google's database so other users using the feature can

  • It's HTML5. It supports geolocation, but it asks if you want to share that information. If you answer yes on a PC, the server is sent the location of your ISP and that is nothing new or dramatic. HTML5 also mentions the accuracy of this information, which could be something like a 20km radius.

    If however you share it on a smartphone with built-in GPS, the information can be just as accurate as normal GPS. This can be used for the old Big Brother is Watching You schemes, or it can be used for annotated realit

  • We are all being tracked, everyday, in one way or another.

    We have video cameras everywhere. We carry cellphones, we use the internet from those cellphones, home network, & on the run with a laptop/netbook/tablet. Yes, those tell your location also, based on where you connected at.

    Your credit cards? Wow, they keep track of your purchases, been doing that for decades.

    Get used to it. It's never going back to how it was, the genie is out of the bottle.

    And as tech gets more advanced, they'll find it e

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