Google made it difficult for users to not share smartphone location data; Report

By Amirtha P S, Desk Reporter
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Newly unredacted documents in a lawsuit against Google reveal that the company’s executives and engineers were aware of how difficult the American tech giant had made it for smartphone users to keep their location data private.

According to reports, Google continued to collect location information even when users had turned off the location-sharing settings. The company made privacy settings more difficult for users to spot, documents reveal.

Google pressured Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) such as LG and others into hiding the location settings citing popularity with users. The ex-Vice President of Google Maps, Jack Menzel acknowledged that the only way Google will not know a person’s location is if the person deliberately sets their home and work addresses to a different location, the report said.

According to the report, Google uses different factors to collect location data, including Wi-Fi and even third-party applications not associated with Google.

When Google tested different versions of Android OS that made it easier for users to access privacy settings, users leveraged them to disable the data sharing. However, the company deemed it as a problem, and to fix it, the tech giant chose to bury these within the settings menu.

Further, Google tried to convince smartphone companies to hide their location settings through active misrepresentations or concealment, suppression or omission of facts, that is, data Google had to show that users were using those settings, in order to assuage manufacturers’ privacy concerns.

The new unredacted documents are part of a lawsuit filed by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, which alleged that the tech giant had been tracking the location of users despite users having disabled location tracking features. 

Further, the lawsuit alleged that Google tracked users’ location in the background and only could stop when a user disabled system-level tracking.

Responding to the lawsuit, a Google spokesperson said that, “We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data. We look forward to setting the record straight.”

Related: Google’s Pichai says committed to complying with laws; Will respect India’s new IT rules


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