- Sen. Kirk calls on Congress to investigate smartphone tracking
- Markey calls for Apple, Google probe
- Congress, EU asking about Apple location tracking
- Government officials want answers to secret iPhone tracking
Apple has remained silent in respond to demands for answers on its smartphone tracking, but Google did respond to the Wall Street Journal story about its location tracking of users. Here’sGoogle’s statement (via TechCrunch):
“All location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user. 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.”
However, the WSJ article also referred to data that isn’t actually being anonymized by Google. Here’s the Wall Street Journal
Google previously has said that the Wi-Fi data it collects is anonymous and that it deletes the start and end points of every trip that it uses in its traffic maps. However, the data, provided to the Journal exclusively by Mr. Kamkar, contained a unique identifier tied to an individual’s phone.
TechCrunch says that Google “explains that when a phone transmits data back to its servers some location data is actually assigned a unique identification number, but it says that this number is in no way associated with the device’s IMEI, the user’s name, or other information. In other words, they’d have a hard time associating a user with that data.”
“A hard time” does not sound the same as “cannot track” individual users. Given the overall data Google has about individuals — and in the case of Android, it is their smartphone system — that seems like a less than thorough denial that the tracking could end up being less than anonymous, especially given Google’s privacy track record.
The European privacy agencies are also getting into the act as well:
The Bavarian Agency for the Supervision of Data Protection, in Germany, said it would examine whether — and if so, why — the iPhone and iPad were storing such user data. Thomas Kranig, the director of the agency, said his office had asked Apple whether geographic information was being stored and for what purpose.
“If it’s true that this information is being collected, and it is being done without the approval and knowledge of the users, then it is definitely a violation of German privacy law,” Mr. Kranig said.
The Italian Data Protection Authority also opened an investigation into Apple’s data collection, expanding one it had begun on how mobile applications process personal data, Reuters reported.
France may follow suit. Yann Padova, the secretary general of CNIL, the French data protection authority, said the agency was trying to verify the report by the American programmers.
The French agency plans to send Apple France a letter asking for an explanation next week, Mr. Padova said. A major concern will be whether the information remained on the device or whether it was transferred by Apple to one of its commercial partners.
“In the first case, it is a matter of simply not obtaining the consent of the consumer for the data to be collected,” Mr. Padova said. “In the second case, if the information is marketed without the knowledge of the consumer, it is much more serious.”
As a number of analysts have noted, for those who read the fine print of online and user consent forms in updating smartphone software, it’s actually not a secret that the companies are monitoring the data. See this paragraph buried in the consent information agreed to users updating their iphone operating system:
By using any location-based services on your iPhone, you agree and consent to Apple’s and its partners’ and licensees’ transmission, collection, maintenance, processing and use of your location data and queries to provide and improve such products and services.
But the fact that users are shocked and appalled reflects the fact that disclosure by fine print is not enough or else you wouldn’t have to have technology columnists patiently explaining to readers that they already elected Big Brother to office and they just didn’t notice.
And when the major smartphone companies make losing your anonymity the requirement for using any location-based service on your phone, that isn’t much of a “choice.”