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Google Sued For Tracking Users' Locations 266

Posted by Soulskill
from the privacy-headlines-autoconvert-to-lawsuits-now dept.
RedEaredSlider writes "Two Android phone users are suing Google for $50 million in the wake of revelations that their phones might be tracking their locations. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on April 27, is seeking class-action status. The plaintiffs, Julie Brown and Kayla Molaski, are residents of Oakland County. The two say in the suit that Google's privacy policy did not say that the phones broadcast their location information. Further, they say Google knew that most users would not understand that the privacy policy would allow for Google to track users' locations." Apple was sued for their location tracking last week. According to Boy Genius Report, iOS tracking will be addressed in version 4.3.3, which is due out within a couple weeks.
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Google Sued For Tracking Users' Locations

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  • There is a lot of money to be made in knowing where a user is. For Google it is a great advertising opportunity. By their own admission they are an advertising company. Put location gathering capabilities in a device made by such an advertiser and isn't it common sense that they may try to gather location information?
    • There is a lot of money to be made in knowing where a user is. For Google it is a great advertising opportunity. By their own admission they are an advertising company. Put location gathering capabilities in a device made by such an advertiser and isn't it common sense that they may try to gather location information?

      which is why 50 million would be cheap if it's a class action settlement.

    • Re:Irresistible (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RobertM1968 (951074) on Monday May 02, 2011 @04:01PM (#36003728) Homepage Journal
      Yes, but that's irrelevant. Google is very clear about the ramifications of their location based/enhanced services. Either these people are idiots, or they need to sue whatever carrier modified the code to not sure Google's location aware warnings.
      • Re:Irresistible (Score:5, Insightful)

        by RicoX9 (558353) <rico@r[ ].org ['ico' in gap]> on Monday May 02, 2011 @04:19PM (#36003916) Homepage

        They're Idiots. I just got my first Android phone. You get warned when you go through setup. You get warned when you install and start EVERY APPLICATION that they'll be tracking you. There is no ambiguity if you have half a brain.

        Idiots.

        • by Mia'cova (691309)

          It's not so much about anonomized data being sent to advertisers. It's when you pick up an iphone/android you can look at the device and answer the question of "where was this user last night at 2am?" iphone had a location cache with no limit. I understand that android caches the last 50 locations. I've heard win phone only caches the current location. I don't think people would expect that the police could figure out where they were at a specific time three months ago simply based on data cached on their p

    • Re:Irresistible (Score:5, Insightful)

      by joh (27088) on Monday May 02, 2011 @04:17PM (#36003900)

      I'm saying this over and over these days, but: Knowing the location of the phone that views a certain ad right now is not evil. Knowing WHICH phone it is and/or WHO the user is, this is evil.

      Google (and MS) just use an engineering approach here and use the Unique Device ID for tagging the location data (and AdMob even adds the Carrier User ID). What Apple does with iAd (use random IDs that get renewed on the iPhone every 12 hours) is much better, since it avoids this privacy problem to begin with. Using random IDs allows targeting phones and harvesting location information without identifying users/phones or tracking users over time.

      Come on, fellow nerds: There ARE technical solutions to technical problems. Recognize that privacy is valuable and implement your stuff in a way that honours privacy by making abuse impossible (or at least possible only in a very abstract way) and you can have both: Advertisers targeting users and users not being tracked.

      The amount of dumb fear and paranoia and especially the unwillingness to talk about technical details is just mindblowing. Advertisers are not after YOU. They may be after all people in a certain location or with a certain income or whatever, but they do not care for you personally and in fact they would LOVE to not have to care for such privacy problems by getting a clean implementation that gives them clean and anonymous data to work with. They work with "dirty" and too personal data only if they haven't got anything else.

  • good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SpiralSpirit (874918) on Monday May 02, 2011 @03:18PM (#36003250)
    this mandatory "give phone makers your location all the time" thing has got to be put down.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044)

      ummm. It is the law at least for the carriers to collect that info. That is how 911 location tracking works.
      The thing I can not stomach is this law suit is because "They are too stupid to read and understand and didn't bother to ask questions!"
      I mean really do people have no shame?

      • Re:good (Score:4, Interesting)

        by SpiralSpirit (874918) on Monday May 02, 2011 @03:32PM (#36003430)
        carriers aren't the issue. google isn't a carrier, its not even a phone manufacturer. They wrote the OS, they're collecting data. The carrier probably doesn't need your consent to track your location, they don't monetize that information.
        • by pavon (30274) on Monday May 02, 2011 @04:44PM (#36004218)

          It is possible that Android is sending more information than I am aware of, but the only thing I have heard of is the network based location service.

          The way this works is that the phone looks at what WiFi base stations you can see near you. It then sends a list of these to a server that has a database of the location of a bunch these base stations. The server looks up the locations of the stations you are near and estimates your location from that.

          It is impossible for the server to tell you where you are without knowing where you are! The only other option would be for the server to continuously distribute gigabytes of WiFi database information to the phones, most of which would never be used. Querying for just the information needed is a better design.

          And as others have already pointed out, this service is off by default, and gives a clearly understandable warning when turned on.

          • if the data was just to tell where I was, they wouldn't have to collect it. If they deleted the data on a regular basis I would think it less evil. But that's not what this is about. That's just a side effect. knowing where people go is enormously powerful.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Reading a EULA is like reading a paperback novel. Only it's written in Sanskrit and there's no character development, plot, or even anything interesting happening. Seriously, they write those things knowing damn well that NOBODY WILL EVER READ THEM. Heck, most people don't even possess the wherewithall or legal chops to read them. When you're standing in a queue in Best Buy you rarely have time for such things. And then when you get the thing home I'm sure the first thing you want to do is sit and swot over

        • by telekon (185072)
          Fine, don't read the EULA. But don't cry when you're sewn ass to mouth in a Human CentiPad.

          At least Google just tracks your location, which seems a whole lot less intrusive now, doesn't it?

        • by grcumb (781340)

          Reading a EULA is like reading a paperback novel. Only it's written in Sanskrit and there's no character development, plot, or even anything interesting happening.

          So... just like a Dan Brown novel, basically?

          In that case, Google should wrap their EULAs in gimmicky paperback covers and sell them on Amazon. They'd make millions and everybody would pretend they'd read them.

      • It seems that you are the one who is too stupid to RTFA. This case isn't about users not reading the agreement nor is it about the carriers, nor about apps that might collect location info. As shown in this exerpt from the case:

        Google tracks users' locations on its own, separate, apart and in addition to the information it collects in conjunction with other businesses that develop applications for Google's devices. This action is not about the applications' collection of information on users; rather, it is specifically in objection to Google's own collection of user location information.

        It's about Google not being honest with its customers about how they track users. Indeed, the suit claims:

        Google's Terms of Service do not disclose its comprehensive tracking of users nor its use of a unique device ID attached to each specific phone. Google only discloses that it is seeking permission to obtain location information from its Android Operating System cell phone users. Plaintiffs and other users did not provide any sort of informed consent to the extensive tracking at issue in this case.

        It also takes issue with keeping this information unencrypted on the device itself, completely unbeknownst to the users. Location data is very sensitive and valuable information

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          The data is based on cell towers and is not exact. It is used to build up a location database of wifi spots that is used to for their wifi enhanced GPS. Even reading your post makes my head hurt.

          "Google's Terms of Service do not disclose its comprehensive tracking of users nor its use of a unique device ID attached to each specific phone. Google only discloses that it is seeking permission to obtain location information from its Android Operating System cell phone users. Plaintiffs and other users did not p

    • Re:good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cpu6502 (1960974) on Monday May 02, 2011 @03:28PM (#36003372)

      Cell phones don't work if the towers don't know where you are. Location tracking is part of the spec.

      • Cell phones don't work if the towers don't know where you are. Location tracking is part of the spec.

        Let's not forget that even though 911 services aren't guaranteed to know your cell location, most people agree it's pretty important tech to standardize. The number of people in North America cancelling their land lines defeats the entire purpose of 911's emergency response methods. Because you can't always blurt out your address, and accidents don't always happen near a house.
        Google cannot really justify any purpose other than "products/services". Whereas your cell provider can legitimately show evidence t

        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          Is it necessary to provide a warrant to obtain location data from cell providers?

          No. It takes a formal request from an official source. The director of a 911 center attesting to the purpose is good enough.

    • by aztektum (170569)

      I am presented with various informational screens about what is happening with my Android phone when I enable any location based services. I can choose to leave them disabled.

      How is that making it mandatory?

    • Re:good (Score:4, Interesting)

      by RobertM1968 (951074) on Monday May 02, 2011 @04:03PM (#36003754) Homepage Journal

      this mandatory "give phone makers your location all the time" thing has got to be put down.

      Unless a CARRIER modified some app or service on the phone, Google is VERY clear about their location aware services, and allow enabling or disabling them. Thus, (a) either these people are idiots, or (b) they need to sue the CARRIER who fucked with the software to hide the location awareness aspects. Either way, Google is not the issue here.

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        Correct. The first thing the phone does when you got to set it up is ask if you want to share your location data with Google. If someone shows that Google collects that data even when told not to, then there is a problem. Otherwise there isn't. The big hoopla over Apple was that they collected data even when location services were turned off.

        My location is personal. Much like other personal things, consent is the difference between fun and abuse.
  • Yeah, I mean... (Score:5, Informative)

    by mdm-adph (1030332) <mdmadph@ g m a il.com> on Monday May 02, 2011 @03:19PM (#36003256) Homepage

    ...doesn't it tell you upon first startup of _every_ Android phone that Google is going to be tracking your location ("sending anonymous location statistics"), and that you can turn it off if you want, but you won't be able to use apps and features that require it? It's not buried somewhere in the TOS -- it's an entire screen that you have to go through upon setting up an Android phone.

    • The accurate term that should be used in the TOS is "location data" and not just "location statistics". "Data" would contain (precise or approximate) location coordinates while "statistics" should contain only numbers pertaining to locations e.g. "user x was located within 100 meters of location y during month z".

      The end user may read the TOS in detail but my bet is that he does not understand what he reads.

      • by Kenoli (934612)

        The accurate term that should be used in the TOS is "location data" and not just "location statistics". "Data" would contain (precise or approximate) location coordinates while "statistics" should contain only numbers pertaining to locations e.g. "user x was located within 100 meters of location y during month z".

        Those "numbers pertaining to locations" sure sound like approximate coordinates to me.

  • by lowlymarine (1172723) on Monday May 02, 2011 @03:19PM (#36003260)
    On Android, you have to MANUALLY TURN ON network-location-based services (they are disabled by default), and when you do so, you are given a warning that anonymized information will be collected by Google. The only way you could be unaware of this "tracking" is if you failed to read the warning before tapping "agree," and that's hardly Google's fault. This isn't some sprawling 100-page EULA with the warning buried in the middle, either. It's two flipping sentences.
    • many cell phone stores do the setup for the customer, and the customer never sees the "start up" screen and the box. they cell phone salesperson just click ok ok next until they can set up the email etc for them.
      • by mdm-adph (1030332)

        And again, this is not the fault of Google. Sue the cell phone store.

      • by lowlymarine (1172723) on Monday May 02, 2011 @03:23PM (#36003320)
        Following the initial set-up, network location is STILL OFF until you go into settings and enable it. Hence, "disabled by default." If the salesman then proceeded to go into settings and turn on network location without telling the customer, then sue the store, not Google.
        • by Bob9113 (14996)

          > Following the initial set-up, network location is STILL OFF until you go into settings and enable it. Hence, "disabled by default." If the salesman then proceeded to go into settings and turn on network location without telling the customer, then sue the store, not Google.

          Were the purchasers informed at the time of purchase, and at the time they entered into a contract with the provider, that if they did not consent to tracking the device would be incapable of performing the functions used to advertise

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        seems like it is worth 50 million to me. I mean you can see how this did 50 million dollars worth of damage right?

        • by avgjoe62 (558860)

          No, I can't, but then again I'm not their lawyers looking to pay off a Lamborghini...

    • by joh (27088) on Monday May 02, 2011 @04:20PM (#36003934)

      This "anonymized information" still contains the unique device ID of your phone that gets only reset when you do a factory reset of your phone. AdMob (by Google) submits this unique device ID as well as the carrier user ID along with your location data every time you view an ad.

      Come on, this is just too much information.

    • According to the suit it collects the data with a unique ID

      8. All Android Operating System phones log, record and store users' locations based on latitude and longitude alongside a timestamp and unique device ID attached to each specific phone. The phones store this information in a file located on the phone. Google intentionally began recording this information with the release of its Android operating system. Google uses cell-tower triangulation and/or alternatively, Google may use global positioning system (GPS) data to obtain a users location.

      • by TRRosen (720617)

        Well then they lose. Neither Google or Apple send an "unique ID attached to the specific phone" both use randomly generated IDs. Unfortunately Google only reset its ID when the phone is reset while the iPhones resets twice a day.

    • by Bob9113 (14996)

      > you are given a warning that anonymized information will be collected by Google.

      If it's anonymized, then they are not tracking my location. They are tracking the location of an anonymous device. I have only a limited problem with that (they're using my device to generate revenue, without explicitly cutting me in on the action).

      > The only way you could be unaware of this "tracking" is if you failed to read the warning before tapping "agree," and that's hardly Google's fault.

      Whether it is Google's fau

  • Yawn (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lysander7 (2085382) on Monday May 02, 2011 @03:21PM (#36003282)
    Just another story of idiots trying to make easy money by suing a corporation.
    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      Yeah just like the corporations made "easy money" by sucking 1500 billion from the Taypayer Treasury. Please pardon me if I feel no sympathy for inanimate objects like rocks, buildings, or corporations. They basically enslaved and sucked dollars from the wallets of ~300 million working class citizens.

  • I'd like to know what kind of damages they've incurred as a result of being tracked by Google that justifies a $50 million payday...
    • by Applekid (993327)

      I'd like to know what kind of damages they've incurred as a result of being tracked by Google that justifies a $50 million payday...

      That's called "punitive damages". Not based on damage done, but a sufficiently high number to coerce a settlement -- er, I mean -- punish the company for wrong doing.

      • by Drathos (1092)

        Actually, when I saw this on Ars the other day, they claimed:

        The lawsuits asks the court to require Google to either give up tracking Android users or to clearly inform users of "its true intentions about tracking," including whether that information is released to third partis are used for marketing. It further seeks monetary damages "in excess of $50,000,000.00" as well as punitive damages on top of that amount.

        So, this sounds like a cash grab, to me.

    • by Haedrian (1676506)

      Luxury Yachts won't pay themselves.

    • I think they use RIAA-style reasoning here. And why not?

    • by cvtan (752695)
      I don't even own an Android phone and I've been damaged $100miliion worth just listening to the suffering. (Accident witness stress syndrome).
    • They should go Dr. Evil and demand one million dollars *checks back with Number 2*, sorry, one hundred billion dollars.
  • Even cell phones with those tiny SIM cards allow a User to be tracked. So why wouldn't makers of cell phones that do everything but cook for you do any less?

    DUH!

  • by khr (708262) <kevinrubin@gmail.com> on Monday May 02, 2011 @03:29PM (#36003404) Homepage

    their phones might be tracking their locations

    Might? Might be tracking their locations? Sounds like they don't even know if it is or not...

  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Monday May 02, 2011 @03:36PM (#36003474)

    There is a mandate in the US that states that cell phones must be tracked for 911 purposes. So Google must collect the info for 911 to use. Giving it to advertising companies is a different story.

    • by Whatanut (203397)

      Negative. Google need do no such thing. The cell operators need to do this. Google does so because they can. The carriers do so because they must.

    • The phone has to have the ability to notify the carrier of it's location, who can then give that to 911 as necessary. Sure that means that Android may have to do something in order to enable that, but one of those things is NOT to phone home to Google.

  • Assuming the GPS on those phones works as bad as any of the Android phones I've ever used.
  • Location Tracking may be a Good Thing. News is coming out that Osama was tracked down because he had an iPhone. Even after the news came out about the location tracking, he couldn't put down Angry Birds.

    notintendedtobeafactualstatement
  • I suppose there's plenty of time for the winds to change - but it's amazing how different the tone of pretty much all the replies on this post is versus the ones on Apple's location tracking just a few days ago.

    Oh, but I forgot - it's Google. They use Open software (somewhat) and state they're not evil.

  • STOP MONETIZING ME! I am not a data goldmine for you to rape at your convenience! Sell me the product that I want (NOT the product you think I need, or the Trojan Horse product that gets you access to my information) and then STEP OFF.

    • STOP MONETIZING ME! I am not a data goldmine for you to rape at your convenience! Sell me the product that I want (NOT the product you think I need, or the Trojan Horse product that gets you access to my information) and then STEP OFF.

      So stop buying their mining devices then.

      Yes, and of course giant mega-corporation is going to make a phone with features YOU -- 18425 -- want and not what the majority of people want.

      • by tompaulco (629533)
        Yes, and of course giant mega-corporation is going to make a phone with features YOU -- 18425 -- want and not what the majority of people want.
        I don't think the majority of people WANT to be tracked. If they were given the option of device A that tracks and device B that doesn't, I would suspect they would mostly go for B, except for the devices that they were going to give to their kids. However, option B is not available, and so most people seem to prefer to have shiny new toys rather than take a stance
        • The majority of people WANT location services, because pretty much every app benefits from knowing where the phone is in relationship to whatever it is that app is trying to do.

          Granted, Angry Birds doesn't need to know where I am to be better, but things like, oh I don't know, weather, traffic, restaurant finders, maps, real estate tools, running/biking/hiking apps, hotel finders and a million other apps. I'd say probably 75% of my apps require location services, and I'm probably more in the majority than

    • by joh (27088)

      Smartphones are an amazing distributed instrument. Millions and millions of computers with constant net access, GPS and whatnot, being carried all over the world in the pockets of their users. The nerd in me sees perfectly well the amazing potential here.

      I would be just too glad to be part of this instrument and to participate in data collection allowing others to offer good and useful services from the collected data. I have no problems with others monetizing this and offering me what they created, IF they

    • by Homburg (213427)

      Why should I care if a business is monetizing me? What harm does it do me if Google, or whoever, collects information about me and uses that to make money?

  • From Count III of the complaint:

    Google also could have required a single sentence disclosure describing its rampant covert tracking of individual users' locations to be signed by purchasers.

    Actually, Google has two sentences [bgr.com].

  • everyone already knows julie brown is downtown.

    hyuk hyuk hyuk.

  • by C_Kode (102755)

    Start lining up to sue all the app developers too.

  • Proof positive that Trey Parker is a genius.

  • by canajin56 (660655) on Monday May 02, 2011 @04:31PM (#36004074)

    When I first turned on my Android phone, it told me that by default location services is turned off. It then asked if I wanted to turn it on, and if I did, would I also like to help Google out by contributing nearby towers and wifi networks to help improve the service. All optional, and all clearly laid out. And, you can't even argue that users feel forced, because you can still get the location-based features without allowing Google to collect the data, since the two options are separated. Additionally, it's also fine-grained and application/website specific. Even IF you enable Location Services for google websites, if a different website asks for it, you get another prompt. Similarly, each application besides the browser that wants that data will also require a prompt. (At least on my phone it does).

    Now, if a manufacturer or carrier is changing the behavior from default-off to default-on, that's not Google's fault. In fact, Google might even prevent this. They have a number of manufacturer rules about user privacy and experience and that sort of thing. While they release all of their stuff open-source (eventually) so they cannot prevent a manufacturer from making such a phone, they audit phones and do not allow non-complaint handsets onto the Google Market, which has a pretty negative impact on the value of a non-compliant phone. Now, I don't know if Google prevents the data collection from being changed to on-by-default, so who knows...certainly some people have claimed to never have been asked, but I've used both an HTC Legend and a Samsung Galaxy S, and both of those defaulted to off, with a prompt during the initial setup. I suppose that maybe some carrier employees do the initial setup for you? But this question comes after you've entered your gmail account and password. So, besides being the store's fault, not Google's, why are you so concerned with privacy when you gave the minimum wage employee at the AT&T store your email address and password?

  • For a civil suit to generally proceed, they need show financial damages.
  • Google does make it pretty clear that they track users. They just don't allow you to opt out without it affecting the functionality of Google Maps and Navigation. That is a big difference between Apple and Google. A 50 million lawsuit over this is a bit frivolous, just a bit.
  • While I feel that there are a large number of people at Google who take ethics seriously there are also people willing to compromise. Corporate America only understands money, for the most part. Cases like this will begin drawing boundaries for Google, Apple and others. Kudos to the people inconveniencing themselves to execute these cases.

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