Google's South Korean offices raided over location-gathering concerns

The buzz surrounding Apple's and Google's practices of maintaining large databases of location data gathered from its customers took a new twist today, with another probe from a federal government. Earlier last week, the two companies were summoned to a hearing by the United States Senate over their reasons for storing this data and whether users can opt-out of this service. Apple's response was made clear earlier this week as they prepare an iOS release which will reduce the amount of data stored and also allow users to disable Location Services, deleting all location data if they do so. While Google decides on its next steps, it suffered a bit of a setback in its South Korean offices earlier today.

As Reuters reports, Seoul police raided Google's South Korean offices over suspicions its Admob advertising unit, which it acquired in October 2009, was illegally collecting location data without consent. In particular, the concerns were whether the collected location information gathered primarily from mobile devices was misused to offer tailored advertising to users. According to a statement from a police official, they "suspect AdMob collected personal location information without consent or approval from the Korean Communication Commission." Google has agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

Although Google is one of the largest search and advertising firms in the world, it is amongst the smallest of search engine operators in South Korea. In contrast, its mobile presence is 20% thanks to the proliferation of Android on devices from manufacturers such as South Korea-based Samsung.

This latest string of probes comes on the tail of similar ones Google faced in several other countries, including the United States and South Korea, over the collection of photographs and location information via Street View. Although Google now offers users the ability to request a blur or removal of their property or personage from Street View, their practice then and now remains the same - automatic opt-in. At what point does automatic opt-in to these information gathering sources stop becoming a convienence for more accurate services, and start becoming an outright privacy violation?

Thanks dknm for the tip on the forums!

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