Google capturing same location data as Apple's iOS devices

It seems that Apple is not the only mobile phone company that has been grabbing data from users without them knowing. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Android smartphones are collecting the same kind of data as Apple has been recording on their iOS devices and then uploading the information back to Google.

Security analyst Samy Kamkar told the site that the HTC Android phone that he had been using has been grabbing location information and sending the data back to Google numerous times an hour, something the company allows users to opt-out of during setup. It also transmitted the name, location, and signal strength of Wi-Fi networks that were nearby, along with the phones unique identifier information.

This is not the first time that Google has been accused of recording data without the user knowing, the company had to deal with a major Wi-Fi privacy scandal last year when the company said that private data was being accidentally captured by rogue code left in its Street View vehicles.

Apple meanwhile, has been caught recording the position of your iPhone and 3G iPad devices ever since the release of iOS 4 in July 2010. They found that the devices save the position of your device in a hidden file named “consolidated.db” by means of recording the latitude-longitude coordinates with the addition of a timestamp.

Despite there being numerous reports stating that iOS devices were recording location data even as early as last year, privacy watchdogs have only just started to demand answers from Apple. Meanwhile, Google has chosen not to comment on the matter.

Update: An additional article on The Guardian website talks about how they believe both Apple and Google are now using their mobile devices to build up huge databases for location-based services. 

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52 Comments

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That's one reason why I like 'opensource software'
Using opensource, I will know all the time what the software does.
If I don't like it, I simply disable it.
**** tomtom and the others. I need my freedom.

Security analyst Samy Kamkar told the site that the HTC Android phone that he had been using has been grabbing location information and sending the data back to Google numerous times an hour, something the company allows users to opt-out of during setup.

This is not the first time that Google has been accused of recording data without the user knowing

mmmm, this article makes a lot of sense [/sarcasm]
This article fails miserably.

kiwi89 said,

mmmm, this article makes a lot of sense [/sarcasm]
This article fails miserably.

It's a sensationalist article (or title, at least).

Apple stores location data without asking or alerting the user. Google ONLY takes the data if you opt-in during setting up the phone.

kiwi89 said,

mmmm, this article makes a lot of sense [/sarcasm]
This article fails miserably.

Totally agree. Just another smear article to ruin Google's good name.

Sending information about WiFi networks isn't a privacy issue, WiFi networks are used to approximate your location. It's not only GPS Satellites that can be used to estimate your position.

The only possible privacy issue here is the fact that it sends back the "phones unique identifier information" as Google claims that the information it sends back is anonymous.

"Google has been accused of recording data without the user knowing"
"the company allows users to opt-out of during setup"

Can't have it both ways.

With android you explicitly agree to it, as previously shown in comments. With iOS you also agree to it because it's worded in the ToS. The surprising thing is that iOS does it anyway, and with android you can opt-out. I wonder how the data is stored inside android devices.

I rather have google and apple be transparent about it. But from the get-go it was obvious that they are collecting that information to assist location services with info provided from WiFi signals.

I don't mind having my phone data sent to google to be thrown in a database as it's not really connected to me or my name. However, I do have an issue with my location data being stored in a file on my phone such as on ios4.

sask said,
I don't mind having my phone data sent to google to be thrown in a database as it's not really connected to me or my name. However, I do have an issue with my location data being stored in a file on my phone such as on ios4.

Well, it transmits the phones unique identifier, which surely is connected to your name...

How is this the same?

As has been pointed out its :-

"something the company allows users to opt-out of during setup"

Although i admit its creepy to gather this info at all - even with a users permission.

TheBlueRaja said,
How is this the same?

As has been pointed out its :-

"something the company allows users to opt-out of during setup"

Although i admit its creepy to gather this info at all - even with a users permission.

Then prepare to be super creeped out as your phone's location is recorded by the phone companies even on dumb phones....

Don't see the problem as it is opt out. If it still does it after you opt out then there I'd a problem. To me this article just sounds like someone trying to take the heat off apple by saying android too

Teebor said,
Don't see the problem as it is opt out. If it still does it after you opt out then there I'd a problem. To me this article just sounds like someone trying to take the heat off apple by saying android too

Don't really think the heat is on Apple or anybody else. Cell phone locations are logged by the phone companies even if you use a dumb phone and have been for many years.

I saw tracking logs of phones back in 1996

Yep its been going on for ages but it is just funny how this article arrives just after apple gets put in the limelight.
It's all a non-issue anyway if you actually pay attention to tos with your new phone anyway

Teebor said,
Don't see the problem as it is opt out. If it still does it after you opt out then there I'd a problem. To me this article just sounds like someone trying to take the heat off apple by saying android too

Agreed, seems like the Apple-centric media is trying to throw some of the heat off Apple by saying "everyone else does it to". My HTC phone has the option, its up to me to enable or disable it as I see fit. AFAIK the iOS tracking can't be disabled.

I don't mind that some sites and my cell company, which actually has a logical reason for having it, collect my location information but it bothers me that Apple, which has no real reason to have it, collects it. And its not just location, they too are collecting wifi info (and who knows what else).

Pretty sure the reason why they have to capture data is for E911 services so they can find your general area if you have an emergency. I know it was mandated by the government here a while ago to have this enabled.

Lexcyn said,
Pretty sure the reason why they have to capture data is for E911 services so they can find your general area if you have an emergency. I know it was mandated by the government here a while ago to have this enabled.

Isn't that based on cell phone masts like it is in the UK?

Lexcyn said,
Pretty sure the reason why they have to capture data is for E911 services so they can find your general area if you have an emergency. I know it was mandated by the government here a while ago to have this enabled.

But the would your complete location history for that. Just your current location.

Byron_Hinson said,

Isn't that based on cell phone masts like it is in the UK?


Yes but your location data must be captured first, it is then sent to the 911 operators who can find your general location...

I don't know why they would need your COMPLETE location history, but it could just be a bug in the data retention ... maybe they have it set too high so instead of storing only your last few known locations it stores maybe a few days worth.

The biggest complaint I have with all of this tracking news is that our batteries are being drained throughout the process.

techbeck said,
Didnt care with iOS...dont care with Android.

At least with Android you accept it or not
I'm not really affraid of it neither but ask the users if you are willing to send the data is honnest.

anyway these come with Latitude that can send you data to your profile. You can see places you've been.

Boy this Android OS really starting to scare neowin writers

NesTle said,

At least with Android you accept it or not
I'm not really affraid of it neither but ask the users if you are willing to send the data is honnest.

anyway these come with Latitude that can send you data to your profile. You can see places you've been.

Boy this Android OS really starting to scare neowin writers

Not me - I love my Nexus S ;o)

I'm not surprised that Google were doing it too. I have a really big feeling that Microsoft aren't doing it with WP7.

Tom said,
I'm not surprised that Google were doing it too. I have a really big feeling that Microsoft aren't doing it with WP7.

*is

xendrome said,

*is

Microsoft already confirmed that they are not. They only keep the last location your phone saved, and that is for the Find My Phone feature.

Byron_Hinson said,

Yeah - the issue seems more based on it capturing Wi-Fi information too, not just the GPS details

It captures MAC addresses and GPS co-ordinates for access points around you. That way, you can find your location using AGPS quickly (using only wifi). It's exactly the same as the street view cars going around and recording the same data.

giggsey said,
With Android you have to opt in when you run the Setup Wizard.
But it is sending more info than Apple, which at least anonymizes the data (ignoring the fact that if you're sitting somewhere you live, then the anonymity is kind of moot). Not only everything around you, but also your unique phone ID. Certainly unanonymous from the get-go.

DomZ said,

Google got busted for collecting that information though with street view

http://www.google.co.uk/search...amp;hl=en&client=safari


Google got busted for collecting MORE than that information. They were storing the whole packets instead of just the MAC headers. And I found the whole thing stupid was hell, because I actually believe it *could* have been a mistake. For all we know, your own phone reads whole packets without doing anything with them.

giggsey said,
With Android you have to opt in when you run the Setup Wizard.

Screenshot: http://imgur.com/ejOC3

According to that image, you can still disable it afterward at Settings->Location & Security->Use wireless networks.

Smartphones are really getting too smart
Can't even trust your phone.

Is the Android case limited to that particular phone? If true the Android case seems a bigger breach of privacy because of the WiFi details. What (honest) use could there be for collecting wifi and signal information? Cell tower information you could understand to a certain degree (but you should still be able to opt out).

Hopefully this forces both companies to let you opt out of this

DomZ said,
Is the Android case limited to that particular phone? If true the Android case seems a bigger breach of privacy because of the WiFi details. What (honest) use could there be for collecting wifi and signal information? Cell tower information you could understand to a certain degree (but you should still be able to opt out).

Hopefully this forces both companies to let you opt out of this

The report certainly specifies that HTC phone - though its still sending the details back to Google and not HTC. Personally I'm not bothered by it, but these companies should just be open about what they are collecting, even if they leave them on by default and allow users to opt out right away.

DomZ said,
What (honest) use could there be for collecting wifi and signal information?.

Google uses wifi networks as a method of working out where you are, so generally even with GPS turned off you'll get pretty accurate locations on google maps etc whenever wifi is turned on.

I vaguely remember having to agree to google getting sent wifi and location info occasionally when i first set up my nexus one for that reason o.0

DomZ said,
What (honest) use could there be for collecting wifi and signal information?

To be able to get a location fix without having to use GPS or the Cell tower?
I don't see why it matters tbh

Byron_Hinson said,

The report certainly specifies that HTC phone - though its still sending the details back to Google and not HTC. Personally I'm not bothered by it, but these companies should just be open about what they are collecting, even if they leave them on by default and allow users to opt out right away.

Android asks you to enable location tracking the first time you use Maps and after all updates, there's another app that does the same and you get prompted to enable it or not, so at least Google is giving you the option

Bag said,

Google uses wifi networks as a method of working out where you are, so generally even with GPS turned off you'll get pretty accurate locations on google maps etc whenever wifi is turned on.

I vaguely remember having to agree to google getting sent wifi and location info occasionally when i first set up my nexus one for that reason o.0

That's fair enough. Didn't realise AGPS worked like that. Apple must be collecting the same things becaus doesn't the iPhone have AGPS?

DomZ said,
Is the Android case limited to that particular phone? If true the Android case seems a bigger breach of privacy because of the WiFi details. What (honest) use could there be for collecting wifi and signal information? Cell tower information you could understand to a certain degree (but you should still be able to opt out).

Hopefully this forces both companies to let you opt out of this

Forces? haha..... you've been always able to opt out with Google. It's CrApple that forces you! ......they give a disclosure, but you have to read it and all it does is TELL YOU what they collect!

That's why Google can say, "Don't Be Evil" to other companies in confidence. You always have a choice. I'd trust Google any day over CrApple with Steve Jobs Gypsy Barker Con Artist Style INFOmercial Marketing.... for only 39.99 more we'll include this Genuine Pleather Smart Cover that's Magical, Revolutionary and Instantly.... LEGENDARY!

Obviously Brian Hinson is an iCrAppleholic feeling burnt by his beloved CrApple, so he takes it out on Google who has always given us the choice to opt out if we want!!!