back to article US senators ask FTC to investigate Google's Location imbroglio

Two US senators have asked the nation's Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take another look at Google's location harvesting. Democrat Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey fired off their request-that-can't-be-ignored (PDF) late last week, asking the FTC to “open an investigation into the potential deceptive acts and …

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Google said it was collecting phones' nearest cell tower locations because that would let it deliver messages faster;

WTF? Radio signals travel at the speed of light. Or have we entered some strange time warp like The Google Zone.... <cue music from the old Twilight Zone for full effect>

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I suspect they mean "messages" that rely on location at points in time. The sort of "we see you're currently at Tesco, why not pick up some discount ham today?" stuff.

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Anonymous Coward

If I remember correctly, they were trying to choose how often to contact the network for new messages. Too often, and you empty the battery, not often enough, and the messages are delivered slowly.

They were already using the country as parameter (networks in Australia are different from US), and then they thought maybe mast location would make it even better. They probably wanted to use machine learning too...

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Anonymous Coward

Google is a mtherfucking charming pig

"we see you're currently at Tesco, why not pick up some discount ham today?"

Only if gathered data show that your are not actually Jewish or Muslim.

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Battery & Polling

This is a nonsense reason. The country or the mast location has in reality no bearing on how often the system should poll a server. Also those sort of parameters (like regular email client pop3 checking) should be under user control.

Which messages anyway? We should know.

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Anonymous Coward

Radio waves travel at the speed of light. Data using those waves, however, travel at the speed of the available bandwidth, which depends on the quality of the radio signal, which in turn depends on the distance to the radio tower.

Not that I agree with Google in general, but let's be careful, as they're not dumb and will not be using stupid explanations in their own defense.

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Routing

There is also the issue of finding the best routing between the sending and receiving devices. The base station (tower )geographically nearest your handset may be several hops further than a base station a few more metres away. The quicker the message can be sent, the sooner the bandwidth can be released for another message.

The actual study of networking efficiency is quite complicated and considers the speed of switching devices and speed of connections between routing points. (Please send solutions to P = NP?, on a postcard to ... )*

(* Yes, I 'm a nerd, live with it, I have to.)

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Coat

you're currently at Tesco, why not pick up some discount ham today

Some spam perhaps?... whistles "Always look on the bright side of life" while putting coat on...

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Anonymous Coward

Its the lowest-hanging-fruit that always 'does you in'

Even with location services OFF and even with cellphone tower sniffing disabled (assuming it is)... All Google has to do is record nearby Wi-Fi broadcasts. In built-up cities its easy to triangulate everything running in the background, from Android users that have 'Location Services turned ON'.

I've noticed Chrome gets activated daily too, but with no history to show what is activating it or to which sites its 'phoning home' to. This is despite having all the usual-suspect Google services disabled, plus all possible services disabled overall, short of rooting the phone etc etc. WTF???

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Its the lowest-hanging-fruit that always 'does you in'

Even with location services OFF and even with cellphone tower sniffing disabled (assuming it is)... All Google has to do is record nearby Wi-Fi broadcasts. In built-up cities its easy to triangulate everything running in the background

.. especially since it indexes and locates all those SSIDs (and possible AP MACs) every time the Streetview cars trawl the area - and location enabled Androids probably add to that too, after all, that's again someone ELSE's location (which then, btw, also positions the people who are logged in to that specific WiFi).

These days Google is much more a valued member of the intelligence community than a better search engine - we've left those days long behind.

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Re: Its the lowest-hanging-fruit that always 'does you in'

Give it up, Product!

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Joke

Re: Its the lowest-hanging-fruit that always 'does you in'

Don't use a phone with anything supplied by Google on it.

Oh wait, that means Apple. I'd better wash my mouth out with RDF Soap.

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Anonymous Coward

users might also be unaware...

"They believe users might also be unaware that with Bluetooth turned on, location data (including movement) is gathered from beacons, where these are in use"

Users might also be unaware that apps containing Facebook's Places API actively scans the users WIFI and any Bluetooth enabled devices nearby.

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Re: users might also be unaware...

How can those apps access wifi and bluetooth configuration data unless you have expressly given them permission to do so?

It is probably better to limit such stuff to the OS, and let it figure out the location using whatever information it has, and then the "allow app <X> to use your location info?" permission governs whether you think it needs know. There are some apps (Facebook is a good example) that "want" access to location data that I don't allow it to have. Why does Shazam think it should know my location, how will that help it identify a song?

Other than some sort of special network management app why would an app EVER need to know the name of your current connected SSID, let alone the names of other SSIDs the wifi interface can detect?

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Devil

Google said

Can we believe?

Streetview WiFi slurping was no accident and now isn't needed.

"collecting phones' nearest cell tower locations because that would let it deliver messages faster; it denied retaining that location, and later disabled the 'service'."

That is absolute gibberish. The Mobile operator needs to know which "locations" a cell phone is near, it's part of the protocol of ALL mobile systems otherwise Mobile wouldn't work. It makes no difference whatsoever to anyone sending or receiving messages using a mobile network. So can we believe any of the rest of the statement?

Almost everything Google is doing on the Internet relating to client connections might be breaking existing EU laws, not just GDPR.

Android TV T&C you have to agree before even tuning a TV are coercive. The information gathered is illegal in EU.

The stock Android phone is a disgrace and can we believe turning off any slurp actually disables anything? A lot can't be turned off. MS seems to be trying to copy Google with Windows 10. Evil services that can't be disabled. Massive by default on slurping that never existed before.

Google Play Service on Android collects lots of information that Google has no legitimate use for and isn't needed for Playstore to work.

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Re: Google said

I would suggest "vote with your feet" but for those who don't consider Apple an acceptable alternative for reasons of cost, walled garden, etc. there is no choice.

People complain about Apple's lock-in, but Google's is worse - even with an iPhone you can't completely avoid Google due to their dominance in in-app advertising and web advertising. I can do the 'reset advertising identifiers' thing but since I have a fixed IP address at home I'm pretty sure they aren't fooled and can trivially connect my old advertising identifier with the new one. Even if I got a new IP address daily they'd probably find other ways to do it...

Hopefully Microsoft is forced to support Windows 7 for longer than intended, as with XP. Given that NetMarketShare actually saw Windows 7's share increase and Windows 10's fall in the past two monthly reports Windows 7 may be tougher for Microsoft to eradicate from the market than XP was. At least with XP there were obvious improvements that 7 offered. Not so with 10.

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Anonymous Coward

I must say I was unaware that Bluetooth could be used

to track me, although I have that off nearly all the time.

I have found the location services useful on occasion, however it is not immediately clear how that data is used beyond the services I am able to consume myself directly.

I would be surprised if Google themselves know exactly how they can use the data collected for their own commercial gain.

Overall though, having a phone switched on at all even a dumb feature phone is enough to be geo-located regardless of Google, If you really want to have location privacy, leave your phone at home.

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Re: I must say I was unaware that Bluetooth could be used

Sure the phone can be geo-located by your operator, but fortunately for us cellular operators are clueless and have no idea how to effectively use misuse that info.

Google has become exceedingly efficient in finding ways to use and abuse your location data for profit, along with every other scrap of data they have collected about you, me and nearly every internet user on the planet.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I must say I was unaware that Bluetooth could be used

If you really want to have location privacy, leave your phone at home.

Or take it with you but switched off and wrapped in some of the tinfoil that your hat is made from. An old tin would do just as well.

Then you have the [redacted] thing with you if you need it but if you don't you are safe from Google's (and others) tracking your every step.

Let's face it people, Google is as Evil as Fermenting Elephant dung.

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Re: I must say I was unaware that Bluetooth could be used

Unfortunately it looks like wrapping your phone in tinfoil may make it easier for the TLA's

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/09/tin-foil-hats-actually-make-it-easier-for-the-government-to-track-your-thoughts/262998/

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Windows

Re: I must say I was unaware that Bluetooth could be used

@DougS:

I have rather bad news for you about cellular operators and location data usage..........

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Google location services

Google Maps is the worst violator. Every time you start it up, it checks to make sure you have full location tracking. If you switch to GPS only, then it will nag you every time. EVERY time. And it is worded to make you believe that it is all-or-nothing. I would switch, but in my testing I find Google Maps is the best for directions on rural routes, like I have to take. I find Waze (also owned by Google and which also nags you about location services) is best for long distance and city drives.

At one time, Google even gimped Maps unless you used full location tracking. Two years ago (with my old LG G4 that died one day for no good reason) I was driving along a rural highway. GPS only location, phone on a windshield mount. Every few miles there was a message "searching for signal". An update to Maps came out soon after that and magically under the same scenario, there was no "searching for signal" issue.

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Re: Google location services

If you have a Google Home device (and I only got one to evaluate for a disabled relative), it simply refuses to work unless you turn on both search history and location history - though you can set it up with a new Google account - which by definition has accumulated no history - and it will work just fine (at least to the usual Google approximation of "work").

Prime case for GDPR, I would have thought.

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Re: Google location services

That's why I closed Google Maps and never opened it again after it told me "enable location services or go away", and use OpenStreetMap-based fully offline maps with a free third-party navigation app that I didn't even give network access to. Yes, it can route me straight across the entire country. No, I don't get live traffic reports and such - so far I seem to have survived without them just fine. And yes, it's conceivable Google might still be tracking me but certainly not with my consent or participation.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Google location services

Until you discover one of the OSM maps you need hasn't been kept up, is out of date, and leads you the wrong way...

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Anonymous Coward

Setting aside all the dislikes for Google the first question should be 'who is paying those senators'.

Somehow I don't believe they are doing it of their own volition, politicians are not that bright.

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Sure they will...if they're up for election.

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