back to article Google risks mega-fine in EU over location 'stalking'

Privacy campaigners say Google's obsessive collection of location markers violates Europe's privacy laws - potentially exposing the Californian giant to punitive fines. Several privacy watchers agree that as it stands, users are misled, and can't give informed consent. That exposes the company to financial penalty under GDPR …

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  1. Khaptain Silver badge

    Confusopoly

    Google, Apple et al know only too well what they are doing, by intentionally confusing everything to a point where even hardened IT Pros have difficulties understanding how to setup things up.

    It's simple really, Google will do everything in it's power to stop you having control over "their" data...

    http://dilbert.com/strip/2010-11-21

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Confusopoly

      Dilbert comic refers - it is so apt.

    2. My-Handle

      Re: Confusopoly

      Sounds like an extension of the "If you can't dazzle with brilliance, baffle with bullshit" approach. Also used to great effect by large companies to limit bonuses, raises, promotions of their own employees, justify bonuses, raises of management, justify the appointment of manager's mate to high-level role, by governments when enacting new 'security' laws...

      That list was supposed to be small, but I can think of so many examples on the spur of the moment that it's depressing.

      1. Lomax
        WTF?

        Re: Confusopoly

        Flat screen TVs is one product that springs to mind as having deliberately obtuse model numbers, making it virtually impossible to conclude an informed purchase. For example, a (very) quick look turned up the following list of 43" TVs from Samsung (other manufacturers may be even worse):

        UN43NU6900FXZA

        UN43KU6300F

        UN43KU7000

        UN43K5110BFXKR

        UN43MU630D

        UN43MU6300

        UN43MU630DF

        UN43M5000

        UN43J5000

        UN43J5200AF

        UN43J5000BF

        UN43LS003AFXZA

        UN43J5000EFXZA

        UN43KU7000

        UN43KU7500

        HG43NE478SFXZA

        HG43NE478SF

        HG43NE470SFXZA

        HG43NF693GFXZA

        HG43NE590SFXZA

        HG43NE460SFXZA

        HG43ND477SF

        HG43ND477SFXZA

        HG43NE593SFXZA

        HG43NEW460SFXZA

        HG43ND470SFXZA

        1. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

          Re: Confusopoly

          "For example, a (very) quick look turned up the following list of 43" TVs from Samsung (other manufacturers may be even worse)"

          I came across similar confusion with Sony's model designations when looking to download a User Guide for a particular model.

          1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

            Re: Confusopoly

            Product codes.... not helped by certain large retailers giving unique model numbers to items they sell, so they can use the "if you see the same model elsewhere for cheaper, we'll refund the difference" line without being bitten:

            Quote: http://blogs.thisismoney.co.uk/2012/02/thinking-of-shopping-at-brighthouse-stop-dont.html

            Brighthouse is selling this glossy-black Hoover model, pictured, for a cash price of £703.29. I reckon I found the identical model, with exactly the same specifications but with a white paint finish, being sold online for £469.Correct washing machine catalogue

            Could I be 100% certain they were the same? No - because Brighthouse, of course, magics its own unique codes out of thin air, rather than use the standard Hoover codes other retailers cite.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Confusopoly

            the pattern is usually pretty straightforward.

            Example, in the Sony TV: KD-55XE8577

            that is a 55 inch TV in the XE85 series.

            the series is in it's 5th Generation, hence the "E" in XE and 8577 denote it's position in the range, where higher numbers mean higher spec. 85xx TVs are pretty similar to each other, and you'd expect 9xxx TVs to be more up-market.

            You can probably work out the same for Samsung.

      2. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Confusopoly

        @My-Handle,

        Sounds like an extension of the "If you can't dazzle with brilliance, baffle with bullshit" approach. Also used to great effect by large companies to limit bonuses, raises, promotions of their own employees, justify bonuses, raises of management, justify the appointment of manager's mate to high-level role, by governments when enacting new 'security' laws...

        That list was supposed to be small, but I can think of so many examples on the spur of the moment that it's depressing.

        Oh be fair. At least with a government you're able to vote against them, and if enough people do that then there's a change of ruling party, and possibly a change in law too.

        Can't do that with Google. You can buy shares in them, but all the openly traded ones don't give you voting rights. So as a member of the public you have even less ability to change Google's behavior than your own government's...

        I must say that this looks like a spectacular fail on Google's part. This new data law has been in the cards for yonks, and surely it must have crossed their minds that what they're doing is probably illegal. Did they consult a European lawyer, or rely on an American interpretation?

        1. Mark 65 Silver badge

          Re: Confusopoly

          I must say that this looks like a spectacular fail on Google's part. This new data law has been in the cards for yonks, and surely it must have crossed their minds that what they're doing is probably illegal. Did they consult a European lawyer, or rely on an American interpretation?

          Simple answer - lobby dollars -> don't give a fuck. Just like most multinationals that have had their arse handed to them for bad behaviour, they simply don't care.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Confusopoly

      you need a job change if you really work in IT and can't work it out. My 70yr mother has no problem working this stuff out.

      perhaps flipping hamburgers might be a better job for you?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Confusopoly

        > you need a job change if you really work in IT and can't work it out. My 70yr mother has no problem working this stuff out.

        What *I* can't work out is what on Earth you are on about. And for all we know, your mother born around 1947-1948¹ is a subject matter expert in whatever it is that you are whingeing about.

        ¹ You really are in IT and you don't know better than to use ages instead of birthdays?

  2. ratfox Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Google is creating a highly personal virtual profile of you accessible to advertisers

    Does "accessible to advertisers" mean that Google uses the highly personal profile to choose which ads to show to the users, or does that mean that advertisers can read the highly personal profile of the users?

    1. James 47

      For the AdExchange feed at least, Google doesn't not send your GPS coordinates directly. It instead sends a polygon, for example 2 square KM, and says that you're somewhere in there. It also truncates your IP address.

      1. nagyeger

        polygon

        I imagine in quite a few locations on this planet, a 2km square pinpoints your exact home. Should we understand there some kind of 'polygon sized to fit 10000 people' calculation?' Even then, searching on some terms, one in 10000 might be enough to identify someone uniquely.

        1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

          Re: a 2km square pinpoints your exact home.

          In the Highlands, I'm certain. But IF the centre of that square is always where the device is located then I'm sure that would give the same effect even in Central London.

          There is the other side of data anonymisation too. In the United States a property owner in a sparsely populated area complained bitterly that whenever a not overly specific Zip Code was typed in to a webisite, their particular property always popped up, which meant that people were contacting them for various products and services which they knew nothing about.

          (Now if that property owner were a bit entrepreneurial they would either be selling their property at a premium price for its superior search engine credentials, or setting up an appropriate business).

        2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
          Boffin

          @nagyeger Re: polygon

          Map Tiles are set sizes and there are larger tiles available for areas where there are less roads/routes. (really its road link segments...) But its easier to standardize on one of the smaller tile sizes.

          That's why they use it. They don't care about the guy who lives on the farm in Normal OK and owns most of the 2km^2.

          But even in a 2km square, given a truncated IP address, they will have you nailed down fairly well.

          If the advertiser has other sources of data... they can even narrow it down further.

          Its scary.

      2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
        Boffin

        @James 47

        So they send a map tile id. That and the truncated IP address is enough to identify your location.

        Yeah, this doesn't look good for Google.

        As the article and other conversations point out that Apple uses it for internal stuff and doesn't serve it up on a platter.

    2. Dave Bell

      That is one of the critical distinctions.

      Recent experience of GDPR-rated consents and settings suggests that internet companies are each allowing hundreds of advertising companies to see my data, and I see nothing to distinguish Google on this. Nobody seems to anonymise the data.

      It's not like old-time advertising on TV, when viewing figures were obtained by recording a sample audience, and you had some idea of what sort of audience watched a particular programme, but nothing specific. It seemed to work. The commercial TV companies made good profits. And, if you're old enough, a phrase such as "Ridley Scott's Hovis ad" still conjures up an image.

      The stuff bad enough to remember was for the local companies, the static card with the voice-over for one of the local department stores that vanished into BHS or House of Fraser. Or perhaps, in the cinema, the Pearl & Dean advert for the restaurant so good that the chef ate there himself. And we seem to be getting that level of advertising over the internet, without even getting as good a localisation as Pearl & Dean gave you. The restaurant where the chef ate was at least in the same town as the cinema.

      Google doesn't seem able to manage that, at times they can't even get the right country.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        And, if you're old enough, a phrase such as "Ridley Scott's Hovis ad" still conjures up an image.

        And a geographically confused one at that. A location in Dorset, a voice-over in a generalised north of England accent and music by a Czech in New York.

      2. JohnFen Silver badge

        "Nobody seems to anonymise the data."

        Given that anonymizing data is largely impossible in this day of Big Data, I think that giving up the pretense is at least more honest.

    3. LDS Silver badge

      "Does "accessible to advertisers" mean that Google"

      Google knows the value of those data, and won't give full access, I guess, unless you're ready to pay a lot for them, or if it incurs a "CA blunder" as well. Yet they can give advertisers tools to micro-target people efficiently, without giving the data away (although I believe part of them cold be reconstructed intersecting the proper sets...)

      That works because they are able to build detailed profiles - and with no oversight - while GDPR rules you can't just hoard data as you please, especially if users didn't opt-in and even attempted to opt-out, and are actively misled.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "Does "accessible to advertisers" mean that Google"

        "attempted to opt-out, and are actively misled."

        This is what will hang them.

    4. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Useless data fetish

      Google uses the highly personal profile to choose which ads to show to the users

      I don't exactly have browser wrapped tinfoil, cling-film or a triple-thick black nobbler prophylactic, and the Ads I see are still wide of the mark by miles, parrot back ads for something I bought yesterday and the kind of thing you only buy once in a while or the bloody obvious (ads for a site I visited a minute ago for the rest of the day (just been there, I already know about it).

      I often wonder why they bother. Can't they just tell their customers they 'know shit' to get a sale, send em' a flashy ad with promises, after all it works on the plebs with spot cream or anti-dandruff which doesn't (just ask 'Snowey' Slopes).

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Useless data fetish

        Because AI is 99% hype, and Advert personalisation/Targeting is just fake snake oil to get companies to spend less on TV/Radio/Paper/dumb billboards and more on Internet and also smart video billboards no doubt sniffing to see have you WiFi/BT on.

        I'd be very suspicious of ANY training of Machine Learning models. Just a special type of database. What do they do with it afterwards? How anonymous is the human curated data used to train it when it's deployed. By definition it's NOT real learning, it's storing the input data and then using pattern matching on the later queries to give outputs. Otherwise it would be useless.

        1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

          Re: Useless data fetish

          Concur although it can be very accurate if you go into Google's settings to cull the "mistaken" profiling. Whenever Google jogs my elbow saying it's time to check into my settings, I don't ignore it. I've been using their services for multiple business and personal accounts since Google's introduction. Quite obviously, I know exactly what I'm agreeing to up-front. I consider the trade-off acceptable. Equally obvious that many/most everyone here do not. The situation with Microsoft is quite the opposite. There is force involved in that "relationship." Hundreds of thousands of dollars for software packages stuck to Windows operating systems assures that. Abandon that investment or submit.

          Now if you want to get into threat models, that's the cable company and most likely the US government. The former is a piece of cake to circumvent, well here at least. The latter, impossible.

    5. JohnFen Silver badge

      Which of those two options it is doesn't actually matter to me, personally. I object to any advertising company (and especially Google) having a highly personal profile of me, whether they actually share that profile with others or not.

    6. Neon Teepee
      Joke

      @Ratfox - Yes

    7. Loud Speaker

      YMMV

      Does "accessible to advertisers" mean that Google uses the highly personal profile to choose which ads to show to the users, or does that mean that advertisers can read the highly personal profile of the users?

      Yes

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Happy

    Interesting times

    I predict a huge rise in popcorn futures

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: popcorn futures

      Those guys should rightfully be billionnaires by now.

      And not only because of all the popcorn I've eaten.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: popcorn futures

        Well with the recent weather patterns, the amount of Sweet corn could be down and prices up. ;-)

  5. nuked
    Holmes

    I think you mean this exposes the local subsidiary to fines of up to 4% of pre-tax revenue, which in the UK at least equates to a handful of small change...

    1. A.P. Veening

      Local subsidiaries

      Maybe so for the UK thanks to Brexit, the European GDPR is quite clear about world wide turnover, not revenue (either pre- or post-tax), leave alone profit.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      The fine is GLOBAL turnover, not national or European.

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      nuked,

      Not only is the law on turnover - but I think the UK is one of Google's top markets.

      I admit I'm going from 5 year old memory here, but when they moved the advertising sales to Ireland it was over £6bn of UK advertising sales, which was not that far short of 10% of global turnover at the time. That's quite a lot of leverage.

  6. }{amis}{ Silver badge
    Mushroom

    RAAAAAAAAAAGE!

    When all the original GPDR data controls came out I spent a day going through all of the providers I could and turning off as much of this crap as I could including all of googles location crap the only thing I left switched on on google was what I thought was the web history.

    Can we please nuke Goole and co from orbit I am tired of this S@~t and barring a bureaucratic miracle the B@~%$£%s won't change their behaviour.

    1. Chloe Cresswell

      Re: RAAAAAAAAAAGE!

      While I believe this is a typo, I do support nuking Goole... :)

      1. Alister Silver badge

        Re: RAAAAAAAAAAGE!

        Yeah, and Grimsby, while you're there.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: RAAAAAAAAAAGE!

          Oh dear.

          It used to be Hull, Hell, and Halifax.

          If you can solve the targeting problem, exo-atmospheric bomb-pumped X-ray lasers might be the best answer.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: RAAAAAAAAAAGE!

          "Yeah, and Grimsby, while you're there."

          Nuking a place while you're there isn't usually a good idea.

        3. Chloe Cresswell

          Re: RAAAAAAAAAAGE!

          To be fair, you'll probably take out grimsby and hull at once if you go for goole with a decent device...

          Speaking as someone who lives in the area, it would be an improvement, and would deal with my stress issues ;)

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: RAAAAAAAAAAGE!

            This is how we'll beat back the Yorkshire Independence Army when they go on the rampage in about 2021. Seeing as we got rid of our tactical nukes, due to arms control treaties and the end of the Cold War, we'll be forced to resort to larger strategic warheads.

    2. JimPoak

      Re: RAAAAAAAAAAGE!

      What the did Goole do to you or did you mean Google.

      Thank you wikipedia

      Goole is a town, civil parish and inland port located at junction 36 off the M62 via the A614 and approximately 45 miles from the North Sea at the confluence of the rivers Don and Ouse in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England, although historically within the West Riding of Yorkshire

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: RAAAAAAAAAAGE!

      Why not just use an iPhone and steer clear of Google services?

  7. naive

    It is also wifi

    Google also uses its wifi database to locate users. I have my location switched off, but based on the wifi/ADSL address of my phone, it knows and registers where I am.

    So it is a double violation, location off is supposed to be location off, and not use the wifi of a shopkeeper to start sending product related emails and browser ads when a user stares into the shopwindow for a few seconds.

    1. Chloe Cresswell

      Re: It is also wifi

      I love when I open maps at home, it automatically centres me on a place in wales.. I'm in lincolnshire. Isn't geolocation so wonderful!

      1. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: It is also wifi

        There used to be a cracking bug with train stations, a lot of Midland stations had same SSID, so Android would think you were in Derby when you were actually in Birmingham (or vise versa) - typically seen after train journey where phone off & swotch on indoors with dismal GPS / mobile signal so it guessed on wifi SSID.

        It was not very intelligent in using previis location data - mate of mine went to a google conference (so phone location from when outside the UK venue), inside, with only wifi, phone showed him in San Fransisco (where another Google conference was going on, I assume same SSID used on routers at the far apart venues) - poor logic to jump thousands of miles in location in a few seconds...

        1. Tromos

          Re: It is also wifi

          Bit stupid to use SSID rather than MAC. No guarantee as it can be spoofed, but much more likely to be unique.

      2. LDS Silver badge
        Devil

        "I love when I open maps at home, it automatically centres me on a place in wales"

        That's probably because dynamically assigned IPv4 addresses are an issue - right now sites attempting to geoip me puts me in a place tens of km away, probably they got some fix when it was assigned to somebody else through another mean.

        But don't worry, IPv6 will fix that as well.... especially if ISPs are free to sell those data. Maybe not in EU I hope...

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