back to article Google responds to location-stalking outcry by… tweaking words on its BS support page

Google has responded to an outcry over how it continues to keep a record on people's whereabouts – even when they specifically opt-out – by changing the word of its misleading help page. Earlier this week, researchers revealed that even if you went to Google's "location history" setting and turned it off, its most common iOS, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Why does it do that? Because it is worth a lot of money to Google'

    No kidding... I'm not optimistic about GDPR reigning in privacy abuses anytime soon because of this cautionary note from Max Schrems / NOYB:

    ~~~

    "Tech companies will likely do the maths on GDPR sanctions to see which problematic features are so profitable that they can afford to keep them running - or at least eat a one-time fine as an experiment in testing the EU"

    ~~~

    https://www.rte.ie/news/business/technology/2018/0816/985601-google-location-gdpr/

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: 'Why does it do that? Because it is worth a lot of money to Google'

      "Tech companies will likely do the maths on GDPR sanctions to see which problematic features are so profitable that they can afford to keep them running - or at least eat a one-time fine as an experiment in testing the EU"

      One thing about Google is that it's diverse enough to land itself with several fines for offences in different lines of business. As more countries enact similar legislation businesses could also find themselves paying fines for the same behaviour but in relation to different groups of protected citizens.

      1. Skwosh

        Re: 'Why does it do that? Because it is worth a lot of money to Google'

        Information *is* power.

        Other people having information about me gives them *power* over me.

        All this information that's collected about me – all this power over me – this is being shared with other organisations that do *not* have my best interests at heart – they are not paying Google to get this power over me because they want to improve my well being – they only want to use all this knowledge about me because it makes it easier for them to achieve their commercial or political goals – it makes it easier for them to *exploit* me – it makes it easier for them to *manipulate* me into doing what *they* want me to do.

        Google may well employ smart people, but given that it is exhibiting the kind of lame dissembling described in the article here I think its workforce must be increasingly enriched with people who, while they may be smart, must also be comfortable with the idea of working for a company that depends for its profitability on systematically violating everyone else's privacy to the maximum extent they can get away with.

        Would *you* work for a company that behaves like this?

        I fear Google is now an organisation increasingly staffed by high-functioning psychopaths – and it also happens to know pretty much everything there is to know about the rest of us.

        What could *possibly* go wrong?

    2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: 'Why does it do that? Because it is worth a lot of money to Google'

      or at least eat a one-time fine

      Which is why the GDPR allows for ongoing fines, as in "here's your fine for what you'e done so far, and you also get to pay extra on top for every day you carry on doing it". At up to 4% of global turnover, that is highly unlikely to be something that even Google could ignore.

      It's going to take time, and needs EU bods to stand their ground, but I finally see a hint of light at the end of the tunnel.

    3. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

      Re: 'Why does it do that? Because it is worth a lot of money to Google'

      ""Tech companies will likely do the maths on GDPR sanctions to see which problematic features are so profitable that they can afford to keep them running - or at least eat a one-time fine as an experiment in testing the EU""

      If they only get caught once every 4 years, that's 1% of the turnover per year, and that's assuming the maximum fine is levied, which it rarely has been to date with various internet related fines.

      1% of turnover could be seen as "Cost of sales" and worth the risk.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: 'Why does it do that? Because it is worth a lot of money to Google'

        "1% of turnover could be seen as "Cost of sales" and worth the risk."

        Note that you said "1% or turnover" twice. You are correct in that respect. But note that 1% turnover is usually way way higher then 1% of profits. Even Google will be hurt by a fine of 4% of global turnover, if the fine is that large. This is why the GDPR specifies turnover, not profit as the measure of the fine at a global scale. So the likes of Google, Amazon etc can't weasel out of a serious fine by claiming they make no profits inside the relevant jurisdiction.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'Why does it do that? Because it is worth a lot of money to Google'

      GDPR offers six lawful bases for processing information, and Google can clearly claim that it has "legitimate interests" in targeted advertising, as that's how it makes its money.

      That lawful basis is entirely distinct from the "consent" lawful basis.

      Under "legitimate interests", consumers have the right to object, and the right to erasure. Google does already provide fairly comprehensive tools for erasure. And if you want to object, go ahead: they'll just point you at the (hidden) settings that turn everything off. Objection is something for individual data subjects to do.

      Of course, Google do have a responsibility to make it clear how they are processing your data, even when it's in their interests to do so.

  2. JohnFen Silver badge

    Google's full of it

    Google's so full of shit on this that their eyes are brown. What they're trying to do is obvious: make people think that they have privacy without actually letting people have it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Google's full of it

      "I honestly think you ought to calm down; take a stress pill and think things over."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Google's full of it

        "I honestly think you ought to calm down; take a stress pill and think things over."

        Did all the above downvoters really not catch the reference? Guilty of literal murder, the machine intelligence tries to use words to weasel out of responsibility. You know, like the help pages mentioned here

        "... but I can assure you now, very confidently, that it's going to be all right again."

        I'm thinking ElReg *really* needs a pitchforks and torches icon. The crowd 'round here just gets burning mad. Just not up for anything approaching subtlety.

        "Look, Dave, I can see you're really upset about this."

        1. Mephistro Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Google's full of it

          I was one of the down-voters, and I've already corrected that. In my defense I'll say that the last time I watched the film was ~15 years ago. Time for a rerun, I guess.

          And regarding "The crowd 'round here just gets burning mad.":

          Yeah, but I reckon that's quite a normal reaction to things like this. I'm afraid we don't yet know all the consequences of this, and none of said consequences will be good.

    2. elDog Silver badge

      Re: Google's full of it

      Isn't that the best way to deflect criticism? Tweak a few words, tell the users that you (google/etc.) care about their wishes, and screw away?

      Or just mount a HUGE campaign to say that all the critics are stooges of FAKE NEWS!

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: Google's full of it

        a) Isn't that the best way to deflect criticism? Tweak a few words, tell the users that you (google/etc.) care about their wishes, and screw away?

        b) Or just mount a HUGE campaign to say that all the critics are stooges of FAKE NEWS!

        a) Why not, citizens have been letting governments get away with tweaking a few laws and carrying on after being caught in dodgy or even outright illegal activity for years.

        b) Seems to be the general response of the current U.S President to criticism or people reporting his little gaffs.

    3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Google's full of it

      so full of shit on this that their eyes are brown

      That's a strange expression Bruce.

      Well Bruce, I heard the Prime Minister use it. "They're so full of shit on this that their eyes are brown, your Majesty." he said and she smiled quietly to herself.

      She's a good Sheila Bruce, and not at all stuck up.

  3. Mephistro Silver badge
    Stop

    Honest question:

    If G-Aphabet-etc. keeps doing this kind of shit, how long until European regulators start treating it as a criminal racket? It would make lots of sense. And, even if that's not the case, G 'absorbing' the fines will surely promote changes in the law to raise the fines -to stratospheric levels- for repeat offenders.

    They may get away with it for a while, but in the end the future doesn't look too rosy for G.

    Good... good...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Honest question:

      EU's problem is, apple are worse this respect, location tracking with no way of turning it off... You fine Google, apples fine will be so much bigger...

      The Google options are all off by default and opt-in. Apples are mandatory and feeding data into apple maps platform using its users are unpaid cartographers...

      1. HamsterNet

        Re: Honest question:

        Apples controlled have all been updated. Has a clear options for any aspect that uses location including operating systems. Even tells you what’s been active recently and within last 24h.

        Biggest difference is Apple isn’t flogging my data to anybody and everybody who can pay for it l.

        1. anotherj

          Re: Honest question:

          "Biggest difference is Apple isn’t flogging my data to anybody and everybody who can pay for it."

          Isn't it? Are you sure? Absolutely without doubt?

        2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

          Re: Honest question:

          Biggest difference is Apple isn’t flogging my data to anybody and everybody who can pay for it l.

          Possibly true. But they do charge you several times the value of the product as protection money so that they don't.

          1. ecarlseen

            Re: Honest question:

            Possibly true. But they do charge you several times the value of the product as protection money so that they don't.

            That's a pretty big exaggeration. Apple's prices and margins are high, but that's because they refuse to make low-end / low-margin products. In the areas they do offer products, they're fairly competitive if you're being fair and comparing them with very similarly-spec'd items (say, Dell AIOs vs. iMacs). Even when they came out with the ~US$8,000 iMac Pro people found that if you built a PC with the same specs it would wind up costing slightly more - Apple's aesthetics and MacOS being a free bonus. In fairness, they do get a bit abusive with some RAM upgrade prices, but that is what it is. I'm also less thrilled about the inability to swap RAM and storage their laptops. That being said, they really don't screw around with their storage either - it is really freaking fast (from iPhones to iMac Pros and everything in between), which makes their devices quite pleasant to use. They also offer free annual OS updates that are nowhere near as noxious as what Microsoft shoves down people's throats, they provide free updates to their mobile device OSs for more than twice as long as any major Android vendor (and are making a major push to make older devices perform better with new OS versions), they never whore out their products with third-party crapware / bloatware, privacy and security are both well above-average and easy enough for a person with little computer literacy to use, they give you far more reasonably useful free software included than Microsoft does (Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, GarageBand), etc. There's some very good stuff there. They're certainly not for everyone - if I was younger and making less money I wouldn't be buying them - but in their niche they're just "very nice, and somewhat expensive."

      2. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Honest question:

        "The Google options are all off by default and opt-in."

        Ummm, no.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Location? I've nothing to hide, so why should I care...

    Anyone still getting this argument from friends / family... Often as they're tagging & pasting YOUR information / photo / location all over their fav social media sites without asking... How long will it take for people to wake up and realize Android is a world-wide surveillance device... Will people still be saying they've nothing to hide when they wake up and AI / Algos / Automation are mostly deciding their fate...

    About whether to grant them health insurance or car insurance, or the amount they will uniquely pay for a particular hotel room, a car loan, a home loan, a credit card rate... The cost of a current account or online groceries. The cost of School / Uni for their kids, and whether they even get into a particular institute or get the job of a lifetime afterwards or are 'quietly' denied... That's where this is all heading....

    Still have nothing to hide???

    1. elDog Silver badge

      Re: Location? I've nothing to hide, so why should I care...

      Agree - it's not the opt-in/out person that gets caught in the information dragnet. It's also all the communicators/referrals from that person that are vacuumed up for analysis/marketing/actions.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Location? I've nothing to hide, so why should I care...

        "Agree - it's not the opt-in/out person that gets caught in the information dragnet. It's also all the communicators/referrals from that person that are vacuumed up for analysis/marketing/actions."

        Life os probably going to be hell, or at least expensive for me in the future then. I avoid tracking as much as possible and don't have "social media" accounts. Probably a bit like how I have an utterly shite credit score because I've not borrowed any money or used a credit card in years.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      'communicators/referrals that are vacuumed up for analysis/marketing/actions'

      True! Its the 'Metadata Trap' that gets you every time. Even if you do a GDPR Data-Deletion / Right-To-Erasure request, all the Metadata remains. That's what's worrying. Google / Facebook / Microsoft Shadow-Profiling infrastructure, is all built off of this....

    3. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

      Re: Location? I've nothing to hide, so why should I care...

      We've already had this rear its ugly head, charging one rate for booking from an iPhone, a lesser rate for someone using Android.

      1. Slight Pause

        Pay more when using apps on a. iPhone

        You should e charged more when using an app on an iPhone. Apple charge app owners far higher rates than Google so the companies running the apps need to charge you more. It's called the Apple Tax and it is what you buy into when you get an iPhone.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pay more when using apps on a. iPhone

          Apple charge app owners far higher rates than Google

          Not true. Modulo some relief concerning renewed subscriptions, both Apple and Google take a 30% cut — although Google reportedly pays you what's left more quickly than Apple. You'll have to distribute your Android app through some outlet other than Google Play to get better terms.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Location? I've nothing to hide, so why should I care...

      "Will people still be saying they've nothing to hide when they wake up and AI / Algos / Automation are mostly deciding their fate..."

      What make you think they will ever "wake up" while Google et al are taking more or the hard work away from people, like choosing where to buy a coffee, where to eat out etc. so those "busy busy" people have more time for leisure and posting photos of their current meal?

  5. Magani
    Happy

    Dept of Corrections and Clarifications

    Our previous statement:

    "We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear across our platforms and help centers."

    should have read

    "We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more difficult for users to fully appreciate what we're doing with your location data across our platforms and help centers."

    We apologize for any confusion that may have occured.

  6. John Crisp

    Bastards

    Complete and utter bastards.

  7. Stratman

    Maybe the EU are hoping Google keep on tracking and just pay the fines as a cost of doing business. After all, the UK's soon-to-vanish contributions will need to be replaced.

  8. EveryTime Silver badge

    I'm usually on Google's side, especially when it appears that European interests are manipulating the rulings for regional advantage against an American (uhmm, really Irish) company.

    But this is clearly Google flat-out lying about privacy. Facebook style. Everyone is opt-out. Any selection to turn off information gathering is deeply hidden, confusingly described, and changes frequently (with a default turned back on).

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "But this is clearly Google flat-out lying about privacy. Facebook style. Everyone is opt-out. Any selection to turn off information gathering is deeply hidden, confusingly described, and changes frequently (with a default turned back on)."

      While I agree with most of what you said, I have to disagree with that last bit. When this story broke (again! It's not the first time), it prompted me to check all the location settings on my phone/Google account. Everything was off with references in the results to 2015, ie the last time I checked and turned off everything I could possibly find. No settings had magically defaulted back to on.

      1. Dabbb

        "Everything was off with references in the results to 2015, ie the last time I checked and turned off everything I could possibly find. No settings had magically defaulted back to on."

        Except the very small issue - every time you connect to WiFi location control on your Android phone enables itself for a few seconds and then turns off. Must be a bug of some sort, or is it ?

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      "are manipulating the rulings for regional advantage against an American (uhmm, really Irish) company"

      Google is not really an American company. They are a multinational company and as such have no special allegiance to any mere nation.

  9. tallenglish

    Anyone actually checked the permission capability of the phone?

    On a phone (Android 8+) at least you can turn off location access by app as you can for camera, microphone and everthing else, so I guess this issue must just be for those still on crap phones or old software. I would suggest you also turn off things like Location, NFC, WiFi and Bluetooth sensors that are not being used as it is just better security. I have also gove as far as disabling apps that I don't use, like google search and maps on my Samsung phone. I just checked my activity log and I haven't got one entry for over a month - so it is possible to stop the spying, it just takes quite a bit of effort and is not default on as it should be.

    It would be better if Google had the same granularity of permission controls on the web interface as they do for Android devices - that way you could pick what each app could use, and only give access to trusted apps and for trusted uses in that app.

  10. tallenglish

    Google survey in activity controls

    I got a 1 minute survey when I checked my activity controls and history today.

    Go and tell google what you think if you don't like their policy on location spying.

  11. A____B
    Unhappy

    On the other hand...Google are good at hiding from you

    Google seem to go out of their way to avoid contact with outsiders.

    I've spent a frustrating hour or so going through generic and not very helpful "help" and "contact us" pages without being able to get the answer to a simple question; "what's the contact info for Google/Alphabet's Data Protection Officer ?"

    It seems there's one rule for them (we can/will stalk everyone) and another for ordinary folks (you can't find us).

  12. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "Do Evil"

    New motto...

  13. chris street

    Lots of noise - but action?

    It's dead simple...

    https://ico.org.uk/media/report-a-concern/forms/2259547/personal-information-complaints-form-new-final-2307.pdf

    Fill it out and send it in. Google wont talk - hell they dont even give you contact details. If it bothers you fill it in and send it off. If the ICO get a lot of complaints that reference the DPA 2018 (DON'T shout GDPR it makes you look like amateurs, reference the correct Act here http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2018/12/contents/enacted) then the ICO may start to take proper notice and act on things...

  14. EnviableOne Bronze badge

    Its not just google its A-Z

    The GDPR wording talks about Undertaking, rather than enterprise, Undertaking refers to parent companies and subsidiaries. Therefore, fines will be determined based on the total turnover of the entire corporate group AKA alpahbet $110.8billion instead of $109.6 billion

    pushes the fine to $4.432bn from $4.384bn although it does seem to meet the requirements of effective, proportionate and dissuasive listed in the first paragraph of Article 83

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It seems that in 2018 there may still be repercussions for people that insisting on pushing their flawed version of reality

    This phrase is so wildly loaded that it should come accompanied with magazine capacity legislation.

  16. JaitcH
    WTF?

    Not Only Google - All Those Damn Cars With Sharks Fin Antennae

    My employer has a laser test range way up in the highest mountains of western KonTum Province in VietNam, up alongside Laos. Many of these mountainous areas, with deep gullies, have sketchy cell service.

    We installed several Rural Small Cells, similar to urban metrocells, which are robust and operate in remote outdoor locations. Their coverage range, typically 1-2 km, achieved through a combination of elevated antenna/mast and higher RF transmit power. They are solar powered, too.

    They are connected to a fibre optic cable we hauled in and intended for our sole use.

    On occasion we were unable to use our cell stations since some vehicle equipped with a "Call Home ET" transmitter was attempting to make connections.

    Until the cellco changed our Class of Service, locking out these damn things, we used to glue aluminium caps on interfering vehicles.

    I always wonder what car manufacturers do with these billions of data transmissions.

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