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Cellphones Advertising Google Patents Privacy

Google Deducing Wireless Location Data 90

Posted by timothy
from the peekaboo-the-van-sees-you dept.
bizwriter writes "When it comes to knowing where wireless users are, the carriers have had a lock on the data. But a patent application shows that Google is trying to deduce the information based on packet headers and estimated transmission rates. This would let it walk right around carriers and become another source of location data to advertisers."
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Google Deducing Wireless Location Data

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  • Amazing Google (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TechForensics (944258) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @12:25AM (#30959362) Homepage Journal

    You gotta admire Google. They are so endlessly, avidly proliferating themselves. If they ever turn evil we could be in a lot of trouble.

    • Re:Amazing Google (Score:4, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @12:35AM (#30959406) Journal

      If they ever turn evil we could be in a lot of trouble.

      If? [slashdot.org]

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Andorin (1624303)
        That article was written four years ago, and apparently Google's stance towards China has changed since then, what with the recent hacking. You might want to find a better example of Google being evil.
        • Re:Amazing Google (Score:4, Insightful)

          by wizardforce (1005805) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @01:07AM (#30959568) Journal

          It was just an example, the first one I could find. Google has been cooperating with the Chinese govt. in terms of censoring their results since 2006. Google only very recently showed their unwillingness to continue censoring their results after the infamous hack on Google's operations. There isn't any evidence that Google did this for anything other than selfish reasons.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Darkness404 (1287218)
            Google is a publicly traded company. They have to answer to their shareholders, lets see here, they could either ignore 1/6th of the earths population or be like every other company and censor. Google has a legal duty to do not what is morally right, but what is in their shareholder's interest. Completely ignoring a billion people is not what shareholders want. Google figured that now would be their best time to speak out against it and have the maximum impact.

            It would be one thing if Microsoft, Yahoo,
            • Re:Amazing Google (Score:5, Insightful)

              by wizardforce (1005805) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @01:34AM (#30959696) Journal

              Google has a legal duty to do not what is morally right, but what is in their shareholder's interest

              I *know* that I'm going to be burning some karma here but to me, "the shareholders made them do it" isn't an excuse for violating human rights.

              Google figured that now would be their best time to speak out against it and have the maximum impact.

              They were just hacked and at the time, it was believed to be the work of Chinese hackers. This I suspect had a lot to do with why Google threatened to pull out of China and stop cooperating with the Chinese govt. In any case, I believe that my original point still stands; Google may have not broken any laws by participating in censorship in China but that does not mean they aren't evil. Willingly abiding by evil laws is evil in of its self.

              • I *know* that I'm going to be burning some karma here but to me, "the shareholders made them do it" isn't an excuse for violating human rights.

                So what do you do? Do you leave yourself open to being sued into oblivion by angry shareholders? Do you allow yourself to be fired and a head appointed who will violate those human rights? Or do you save your own skin and hope to make a difference later on down the line?

                They were just hacked and at the time, it was believed to be the work of Chinese hackers. This I suspect had a lot to do with why Google threatened to pull out of China and stop cooperating with the Chinese govt. In any case, I believe that my original point still stands; Google may have not broken any laws by participating in censorship in China but that does not mean they aren't evil. Willingly abiding by evil laws is evil in of its self.

                Not only were they hacked, but Google has in a few short years grown to have a huge presence in China. Before establishing a presence in China, most Chinese wouldn't care if Google didn't deliver search results, now if Google steps out o

                • Do you leave yourself open to being sued into oblivion by angry shareholders?

                  It looks like it is time to reform those liability laws.

                  And I know how we all think we are great idealists and we'd never do anything like this but what would you tell your family? Its not like there are companies having a shortage of labor...

                  Doing the right thing isn't always easy. If it were, there wouldn't be nearly so many oppressive regimes in the world. However, a line must be drawn in the sand at some point that tells th

                • So what do you do?

                  You make a choice that defines you as a man. The dark side or the light side. You will pick the dark side, tell others to pick the dark side, and be a man not to be respected by your family and environment. Well done..not!

                • In general shareholder lawsuits only have a chance in cases of fraud or deception. If the board tells you what they are planning, and then follows through with it, then your only recourse as a shareholder is to either sell the stock or try to buy enough stock to vote out the board. Stock holders really don't have much say when it comes to running a company.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by belrick (31159)

              Did you not read the Google S-1 filing? Here: http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1288776/000119312504073639/ds1.htm [sec.gov] Their shareholders don't have much of a leg to stand on if they want to second guess Google management.

            • Re:Amazing Google (Score:4, Informative)

              by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @03:27AM (#30960180) Journal
              Wow, that is the densest post I have seen in a long time. Companies ignore the interest of shareholders all the time. Apple, for example, would be paying dividends if it really cared about its shareholders. They have the cash, and a lot of shareholders really want it.

              The legal requirements towards shareholders is really weak. About the only thing you can't do is deceive the shareholders about what you are planning.

              Completely ignoring a billion people is not what shareholders want.

              That's really bold of you to speak for all those people you don't know. In fact, in this case we know that the significant portion of Google shareholders actually do want Google to stop censoring search results in China.

              Companies are run by people. They aren't faceless borgs; the problem is you don't know the faces of the people running the companies, so it's easy for you to imagine they are evil. In reality they are no more evil than the people running them.

            • If "The Shareholders" have a say in what Google will do, then "The Shareholders" are part of Google. If "The Shareholders" require Google to do evil, then Google is evil.

              That said, having Google in china does more towards freedom than against it.

            • by Phurge (1112105)
              that's overly simplistic. Ignore a billion people paying you 2c per month or piss off and damage your brand in the eyes of another billion people who are giving you billions in profit per year? China has a lot people but not a whole lot of revenue... Google's brand in western countries is worth a whole lot more.
          • by T Murphy (1054674)
            Similar examples about Microsoft's behavior gets a "so what?" response, while for Google it gets a "they're so evil" response. That would imply it is still not the norm for Google to be evil. I guess you could say they're still in the Anikin phase, with evidence Darth Vader is in there somewhere.
            • Similar examples about Microsoft's behavior gets a "so what?" response, while for Google it gets a "they're so evil" response.

              When your reputation is ruined, you can act without shame.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by davester666 (731373)

        call me if Google manages to pass any of the wireless carriers on the 'evil' scale...if it's even possible.

        • by Jurily (900488)

          They'll just set the evil bit.

          • It would be compounding their evility if the carriers removed the evil bit.

            Would google be evil for forging it back in?

            Would the carriers be evil again for reremoving it?

            Minds boggle, at least mine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I hope they figure it out, because ATT somehow keeps my new Samsung phone from running Google maps properly. It can't figure out where it is at all. Makes it useless.

      I don't want to pay the fuckers "by the drink" for a GPS service. And I want to strangle the marketer that invented that idiotic bit of buzzword bingo too.

      • What model? I recall reading somewhere that it appears in a "games and more" category on Samsung, which is an admittedly bad place to put it...
        • Samsung Flight.

          The app itself goes where you put it. The cell id information on the help screen looks ok, but it doesn't display my current location from it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I can't remember the name, but in Snowcrash there was a company that was privatized from the government made up of the NSA and the Library of Congress. Google demonstrates more of the fictional company's capabilities every day

      • Central Intelligence Corporation. Also interesting in that they obtained their data essentially by crowdsourcing from amateur spies.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      I love Google, but lets be realistic, its not a matter of if, its a matter of when. The current crew may not be evil even, but they won't be there forever.

      I still find this sort of thing great though, I don't plan on owning an Android device so I'm not real concerned about them spamming me with ads or whatever they plan on building in, and even with that, I'd rather be spammed with location aware ads than something thats no where near me.

      It might be nice to be told that theres a new place to eat a few bloc

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by causality (777677)

        I'd rather be spammed with location aware ads than something thats no where near me.

        I frequently see variants of this notion and I still don't understand it.

        I generally don't impulse-buy. I believe that the model of independently determining my wants and needs and then shopping for the best solution available soundly beats the model of listening to a company tell me why that company is good for me, buying items for needs I never even knew I had. As in, I don't just think that sounds good, I really bel

        • by Polumna (1141165)
          I do not disagree with you in general. However, if I might attempt to provide some insight into why targeted ads are at least marginally better... at least as I see it:

          First, I also almost always research most purchases greater than, say, $15. I will actually use google ads as one small part of that research. (Also, pertaining specifically to location based advertisements, as an example, I'd love to make a hobby out of random restaurant visits to holes-in-the-wall I wouldn't have heard of otherwise. Gran
        • It's hard to draw the line between evil adverts, that try to create a demand for something, and good adverts, that let people who have a demand for something know that there is a supply. In terms of location-aware advertising, I can imagine a few cases where I would like to receive it.

          Have you ever been on holiday somewhere, got back, and then read about an exhibition that was very close to where you were staying that you'd have liked to see? It would be nice for a mobile device to pop up a list of int

        • by Phurge (1112105)
          take out the advertising supported parts of the web, and you take out quite a significant chunk - our web experience would be poorer if sites couldn't fund themselves wholly or in part by advertising. So would you prefer to have irrelevant ads served up to you, or ads that may be more releveant (considering that the website that you are using can ask for higher rates because that ad is more relevant?)
      • by Phurge (1112105)
        I agree with parts of your post. My take on internet companies is that propensity towards evil occurs when the founders sell out - ebay being a prime example. (although recently Amazon and its kindle have shown an increasing level of evilness). When it comes to google, they have had ample opportunity many times to be evil, but for the time being I am relaxed because of two points: 1 - Larrey & Sergey are still there, 2 - their business model (serving ads) relies on openess.
    • by Aashi84 (1733312)

      You gotta admire Google. They are so endlessly, avidly proliferating themselves. If they ever turn evil we could be in a lot of trouble.

      it is worth admirable

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You gotta admire Google. They are so endlessly, avidly proliferating themselves. If they ever turn evil we could be in a lot of trouble.

      If they turn evil? What do you think they're doing with all the search data they're gathering?

    • If they ever turn evil...

      Yeah, when it happens, google will inform us on the main page.

  • by KenMcM (1293074) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @12:28AM (#30959370)
    What's stopping carriers from deliberately slowing transmission rates for random customers during random intervals? Just enough such that Google's data is inaccurate.
  • Aside from 'google' 'mobile' 'patents' 'privacy' 'cellphones' and 'story' ... there should *always* be a 'not surprised' and 'obvious'. Google is king of data pillaging and border-line inter-personal information mining. This may fail or it could be highly successful for Google; regardless of the outcome, they've got their hands in just about anything as it pertains to identity on the internet now. This shouldn't be any more surprising; and it sounds pretty cool.
    • The surprise is that this is required. Google Maps Mobile sends the cell ID to Google and assumes that most people will look at their current location first when mobile. It then builds a map of locations for cell IDs so the next person to connect from that cell will see the same location everyone else looked at. This means that they can already produce local ads. They do the same data collection based on IP addresses, to find the location of mobile hotspots.
  • Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PCM2 (4486) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @12:29AM (#30959380) Homepage

    If the carriers are "jealously guarding" their location data, how come every time I pull up Google Maps on my non-GPS BlackBerry it can figure out where I am to within a block or so? Either this patent is for a technology Google had figured out a long time ago, or else the carriers aren't as worried about having "a lock" on this data as TFA makes it sound.

    • by SuperBanana (662181) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @12:41AM (#30959436)

      Either this patent is for a technology Google had figured out a long time ago

      Ding ding ding. Google's been using the technology for a while; they just filed for the application.

      You don't have to file for a patent the second you invent something. In fact, you usually want to wait as long as possible before the final steps. You get your foot in the door by filing some paperwork with the patent attorney, notarizing documents showing the invention, etc. etc.

      • I have an older CDMA handset that can be put into test mode by entering **DEBUG and Send, which then displays (among many other things) the nearest cellsite's Latitude and Longitude. It's not the exact handset location, location, but it is useful data. Google's HTC handset is GSM, not CDMA. Do GSM cellsites broadcast their location?
    • My Samsung phone can't do it. ATT is blocking it. Google maps can't find my location either with the GPS or with the triangulation cell id location.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Cause Verizon doesn't mind selling your location to Google, AT&T on the other hand may not. I think they sell it to Google as the iPhones map app seems to always know the tower I'm on, regardless of wifi signal available, even in the middle of west texas with no other buildings in sight (so no wifi).

    • I'm guessing you're talking about the 'My Location' app on the BlackBerry, which is an app, not a webpage. It is estimating your location based on the nearest cell tower, not on your IP address. It is a different technology than that mentioned here.
  • by GrantRobertson (973370) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @01:15AM (#30959606) Homepage Journal

    Now we know the real reason for the suggestion Google has made recently to change the way DNS works to report part of the requesting IP address. They don't give one whit about decreasing unnecessary traffic. They just want to use that for additional location data.

    • All the better to sell you a soda, pizza, shoes, movie, games ect. as walking down the street.
      Also good for the feds to allow 'market forces' to track you.
      Opt in for local deals direct to your phone.
      No opt out if your of interest for the DHS.
    • by Trepidity (597)

      Why would they need DNS modified for that? For users connecting to a Google service, which is what would be needed to measure the kind of stuff this patent talks about, they already have the IP address, because the user, well, connected to them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Modifying DNS in the way they are requesting could be used - along with the technologies mentioned in this article - to determine or narrow down location information even on connections that aren't going to Google's servers. Thus allowing Google to track location information on everyone in the world all the time. That would be very valuable information to Google even if it were not as accurate as GPS, or as specific as a whole IP address, and even if it were in aggregate form.

        The more information they can g

    • mod him -5: bullshit.

      Google already has the user's IP address.

  • This is probably why my google calender app on my iphone switches to French when I am using it on my home network. I live in Sweden but somehow my ISP has been designated as French and I get a lot of French ads when browsing from home.

    Its weird and somewhat annoying but I am getting a chance to brush up my French.

    • by lintux (125434)

      That has very little to do with this technology and more with a mistake in a IP-to-geolocation database somewhere, most likely.

  • To be fair on Google, this story could actually just be sensationalist crap.

    On Android phones for example, applications that use location data can either use GPS if available, or use your rough network location based on the cell tower you're communicating with- but obviously that's very rough.

    This patent sounds like they're just trying to improve the usefulness of location data to make location based apps more useful when you don't have a GPS signal, have GPS disabled on low battery, or just don't have GPS

  • This is another example of why patents are bad.

    A a technical person - saying "Hey, if we have some devices communicating wirelessly, and we know about the protocols they are using to communicate, we can deduce a bunch of information about their approximate location just by watching how long it takes them to have certain conversations from different points of view.

    Why should that be patentable? It is clever, but it's also somewhat obvious.

  • I was wondering why Google didn't scan for wifi access points when they did their streetview; this would have seeded their location database. After that, all the people running google maps on various smartphones with GPS capability would allow them to keep it up to date or cover areas street view mapping didn't cover.

    Or maybe they did and sold the data to skyhook instead ;-)

  • The fiction that a corporation is a person - combined with the legal precedent that says that the executives can be sued if they do something that reduces profits - makes for some pretty well defined behavior by the corporation. It is solely concerned with maximizing its own revenue and any other concern is incidental or done to "look good". If the corporation were a real person and was evaluated by a psychologist it would be likely be diagnosed as a psychopath (sociopath).

    Consider this when you parrot the

  • GPS in our cell phones. Location-aware OSes. Now Google has figured out how to identify where packets came from.

    Google turning evil nothing. Imagine what the government could do with this.

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