back to article Bloke hurls sueball over Google's 'is it off yet?' location data slurping

Google's creepy obsession with users' locations is to be challenged in court – a lawsuit has accused the search-cum-ads biz of unlawfully invading users' privates and intentionally complicating the opt-out process. The allegations were levelled at the company in a suit brought by Californian resident Napoleon Patacsil after …

  1. ratfox Silver badge

    Napoleon Patacsil is a pretty awesome name. I wish him luck.

    1. Tigra 07 Silver badge
      Coat

      RE: ratfox

      The little fellow who took on Google...

    2. vir
      Pint

      I can't afford enough beers to get this guy what he deserves.

  2. Queeg

    Googles choice is going to be

    "Is it going to cost more than the advertising revenue we get from the location data?".

    If it's not they'll pay the fine and find a way to keep on slurping up the info.

    Even a huge EU GDPR fine may cost less than what they earn from the data.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Googles choice is going to be

      "If it's not they'll pay the fine and find a way to keep on slurping up the info."

      It's not just going to be a question of one fine (actually this is a civil suit so it's going to be damages); this is going to come up across multiple lines of business and multiple legislations. ISTR that this is already under attack in the EU in addition to a previous Schrems suit. India (India!!) is getting in on the act as well. You may think any of these are small in relation to the size of Google but cumulatively they're going to cut into profits unless advertising prices are raised. If advertising prices are raised maybe some advertisers are going to start looking more carefully at what they get for their money.

      1. Herring` Silver badge

        Re: Googles choice is going to be

        "India (India!!) is getting in on the act as well. "

        I can see reasons why India might want privacy equivalence with the EU. It would help a lot if companies want to shunt processing of personal data out there.

    2. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Googles choice is going to be

      Even a huge EU GDPR fine may cost less than what they earn from the data.

      Maybe once, possibly twice but thereafter, no chance.

      The GDPR penalty scheme has increasing penalties for repeat offenders leading ultimately for persistent repeat offenders to the much proclaimed 2% of global turnover.

    3. LDS Silver badge

      "Even a huge EU GDPR fine may cost less than what they earn from the data"

      Even if so, and revenues != profit, so it's the profit that must be enough higher so the amount doesn't burns a huge slice of shareholders value... which means less earnings per share, and maybe a drop in shares value.

      And the fine won't be a one-off if they persist in gathering data unlawfully.

      Also,. that's just EU - what if other countries follow?

  3. fruitoftheloon

    Question

    Does anyone know if it as well buried in the UK/EU as well??

    Jay

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Question

      UK:

      For a new user, the settings are fairly upfront although they dont (or rather didnt) specifically state that location was covered in "Web and App" activity. For existing users, same deal but you have to go in and out of pages several times to turn everything off. Takes about 3 to 4 minutes to do.

      One thing I did notice is that new users who add a mobile number are also asked if they want to use it for security only rather than contacts list slurp etc. Didnt see that specfic setting for an existing user unless it was blanket covered by something else.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Question

        Is this on the phone or a series of web pages on some google site? Can't find web and app activity in my settings.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Question

          Very little on your phone. You'll need to log into your Google account using a browser and then go to Account Settings, then Security and Privacy.

          Tip: any link they show, open in a new tab

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Google Account?

            How quaint. Are you not asking for trouble to have a Google account linked to your phone these days?

            Ducks to avoid incoming.

            1. eldakka Silver badge

              Re: Google Account?

              How quaint. Are you not asking for trouble to have a Google account linked to your phone these days?

              Is it possible to have an android phone without linking it to a google account? I haven't bought a new phone in over 2 years and am looking at getting a new one.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Google Account?

                "Is it possible to have an android phone without linking it to a google account? I haven't bought a new phone in over 2 years and am looking at getting a new one."

                Short Answer: Yes.

                Long Answer: Yes. To use a new android phone without google account, simply skip the google account setup from the start. Keeping the internet off during the setup is recommended. To install app without google play, simply turn on the side-load option to enable apk app installation (under developer option or security option where it says allow installation of apps form unknown sources.)

                However, some issues may come up for apps that depend on the Google play Services.

                -If the app doesn't depend on Google play Services, then it will work with no problem, and a lot of apps don't depend on Google play Services.

                -If the app need a Google app (usually for sign-in), then you might see popup asking for the Google app which are often skip-able.

                -If the app depends on Google play Services and you have not root uninstalled it, then it will work.

                -If the app depends on a new Google play Services and you do not have, then it will likely not work. However if you side-load install a new Google play Services version for that app, then the app will work.

                -If the app depends on Google play Services and you have rooted and uninstalled it, then it will likely not work.

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Question

      I just had a look on my Galaxy S6, pretty well buried under many layers and even then its not clear that location data is being controlled under "Web & App Activity".

      It's clear that if user turns off location data I expect no more location data to be taken, so especially since Google first lied about it then tried to hide it, it's clear case against them. Of course, $L$A$W$Y$E$R$S$ will just try and drag it out for a few years till it's forgotten by most

      1. Charles Pearmain

        Re: Question

        And if you turn off Location Saving and tracking in your Google account there are inconvenient side effects - like any linked Google Home devices suddenly becoming completely dumb until you re-enable the 'optional' settings.

        The gloves are coming off Google's steel claws

        1. onefang Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Question

          "And if you turn off Location Saving and tracking in your Google account there are inconvenient side effects - like any linked Google Home devices suddenly becoming completely dumb until you re-enable the 'optional' settings."

          Google Daydream will stop working to, though not Google Cardboard. According to Google, location services are needed to track the Google Daydream hand controller, a device that only reports rotation, not location.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Question

            Catch 22. You can't log in to a google account to turn all their shit off if you don't agree to the terms of access to thier site/service/exploitation.

  4. Tigra 07 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Android user here

    I hope Google lose. Don't be evil

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Android user here

      Ah "Don't be evil" but nowhere do they say "Don't do evil" there's a subtle but significant distinction between the 2 phrases.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Android user here

        "To do is to be" -- Satre

        1. RyokuMas Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Android user here

          "Do be do be do" -- Sinatra

          ... sorry.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge
            Coffee/keyboard

            Re: Android user here

            "... sorry."

            So you should be. This is an almost new laptop.

          2. JohnFen Silver badge

            Re: Android user here

            Don't be sorry! I only narrowly escaped making the same joke myself. I understand the temptation involved.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Android user here

            Scooby dooby doo!

    2. Charles Pearmain

      Re: Android user here

      Yeah, "Don't be evil" quietly disappeared earlier this year: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/google-dont-be-evil-code-conduct-removed-alphabet-a8361276.html

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Popcorn ready but EU/Cali Privacy-Laws face uphill battle

    Privacy / Destiny Is largely in our own hands though, if we choose it:

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    1. Swap Google for Startpage.com

    Or Duckduckgo if you prefer (but it has ties to yahoo). Do it today!!!

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    2. Swap Gmail for Signal (Whispersystems.org)

    (Close or limit use of WhatsApp / Messenger / Facebook / Instagram)

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    3. Android: Turn-off Location Services unless its unavoidable

    Google still tracks you as shown below, but its not quite as easy.

    www.theregister.co.uk/2017/11/22/permissionless_data_slurping_google/

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    4. Android: Sanitize phone: disable / uninstall spyware. Add Netguard...

    If nothing else disable the proprietary closed-source scary sht like:

    Google Play Services / Play Store / Google App - Maps - Keyboard.

    Get all your apps solely from F-Droid.org / Fossdroid.com / Yalp etc.

    Drop Chrome! Install Netguard non-root VPN to block the other apps.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    5. Never ever use Google / FB etc to Log-into any 3rd-Party services

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Popcorn ready but EU/Cali Privacy-Laws face uphill battle

      6? Boycott all the advertisers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        '6? Boycott all the advertisers.'

        Hard to do 100% and won't stop the glorious future awaiting us. Namely: 1st-Phase: matching / targeting ads. 2nd-Phase hoovering up cc financial-transactions / patient-health info. 3rd-phase involvement in every single transaction or event people have in their lives: Big-Data - AI -Algo - Automation.

        Does your child get to have the surgery they need? Do they get a place on the college course they deserve? Do they get the job they long for? Do they get a loan to buy a dream home? Who can they get to date? Do they routinely get arrested because a pre-crime system keeps flagging them up in error etc etc?

        https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44466213

    2. jaduncan

      Re: Popcorn ready but EU/Cali Privacy-Laws face uphill battle

      "Swap Gmail for Signal"

      One is IM and one is email. I'd probably suggest just using ProtonMail.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Popcorn ready but EU/Cali Privacy-Laws face uphill battle

        I swapped to Protonmail after the Yahoo fiasco and I have to say its one of the nicest email systems I have ever used and because of the lack of add's one of the fastest too.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        'One is IM and one is email. I'd probably suggest just using ProtonMail'

        For sure. I meant 'Gmail to Signal' when trying to convince friends, family, colleagues to move more personal discussions off Gmail to Signal etc. Many won't drop Gmail altogether anyway, as even plane tickets have to go somewhere etc.

        And that raises a question. Can you say more about using ProtonMail in practice. Its free for most people, right? But everyone has to be using it, correct? Therefore it still won't replace email anyway and booking travel etc. Cheers for info!

        1. jaduncan

          Re: 'One is IM and one is email. I'd probably suggest just using ProtonMail'

          It's an email webmail client with a JS wrapper around GPG. It recently passed a security audit.

          It's email, so you don't need the other parties to use it, although if you want encrypted comms they have to use GPG either via Protonmail or somewhere else (including their own desktop GPG install). So it's much more fitting into the gmail use case, just without scanning.

          And yes, you can get plane tickets etc to it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: 'One is IM and one is email. I'd probably suggest just using ProtonMail'

            Thanks a lot jaduncan. I wasn't sure before if everything had to be encrypted by default. But it looks like no you don't, its just there if you want it, which sounds great. Cheers again!

        2. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: 'One is IM and one is email. I'd probably suggest just using ProtonMail'

          "I meant 'Gmail to Signal' when trying to convince friends, family, colleagues to move more personal discussions off Gmail to Signal etc."

          Even so, those are two different sorts of programs that do two different things. One cannot really substitute for the other.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            'One cannot really substitute for the other'

            @JohnFen With respect gotta disagree... In the past they were but not so much now. That's one of the things that's changed with trends and cultures. Use of WhatsApp in Latam and EU (in certain parts) is considerable. So much so its done away with email in many work and social environments. UK/US/Auz not so much though...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: 'One cannot really substitute for the other'

              Trying to source a link to WhatsApp / Email usage around the world... But for now here's a related example from Brazil...

              https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-35119235

            2. Jack 12

              Re: 'One cannot really substitute for the other'

              Is WhatsApp really replacing email in corporate environments? I would have thought that the accountability and archivability of email is not yet matched in something like WhatsApp. I can see where it might replace IM systems like Lync/Skype but I can't imagine the email in my work inbox being replaced by WhatsApp anytime soon because it's just so fundamentally different as a platform.

            3. JohnFen Silver badge

              Re: 'One cannot really substitute for the other'

              We're talking about two different things here. I was commenting that email and instant messaging are two fundamentally different things that are intended to solve fundamentally different communications problems. That is just as true today as it was 10 years ago. There are numerous things I do every day with email that I cannot do with instant messaging, and vice versa.

              You're talking about popular use. A valid topic of discussion, but very different from the one I was engaging in.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: 'One cannot really substitute for the other'

                @JohnFen @Jack 12

                'You're talking about popular use.' / 'Is WhatsApp really replacing email in corporate environments?'

                Listen, it sounds nuts I know, but try and appreciate that the economies in Latin America are much more informal than what we're used to in EU/US etc (expat living in region for a decade).

                While Banks don't conclude entire deals on there (paper contracts are still alive and well), use of WhatsApp is widespread in all types of businesses at all levels including corporations. So its way beyond just popular, its arguably irreplaceable.

                Personally I fear it, as Facebook plans to pry open WhatsApp messages (both founders left recently because of this). So I wish people would switch to Signal etc. But its a hard sell when so many pervasively use the other. There's little awareness here of what happened with Facebook/CambridgeAnalytica / Palantir etc.

  6. Rich 2

    Not just location data

    ALL of Google's opt-out procedure is intentionally complicated. You have to press zillions of buttons to switch everything off. And it doesn't seem to matter how many times you do it, it all comes flooding back the next time you use their site!

    This is also true for most other web sites out there that like to collect your data.

    I think the GDPR peeps missed a trick here - they should have stated that opting out must be as simple as opting in.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Not just location data

      I was under the impression that GDPR did staye that opting out should be simple.

      As for the web activity and apps thing; I have looked everywhere on my phone and can't find it (android 7). Google can be useful but it is not your friend.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Not just location data

        As for the web activity and apps thing; I have looked everywhere on my phone and can't find it (android 7). Google can be useful but it is not your friend.

        Settings > Google > Google Account > Data & personalisation tab > Activity Controls box > Web & App Activity setting.

        Although you should disable everything once you get to Google Account.

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Not just location data

      I think the GDPR peeps missed a trick here - they should have stated that opting out must be as simple as opting in.

      I think it's being left to the lawyers.. who won't miss a trick, if it's possible to turn that trick into large fees. So given Alphabet's currently a large and lucrative litigation target, expect more cases. And it's not so much GDPR folks missing tricks, more Google.

      Key part of GDPR is informed consent before personal data is collected/processed. Google rarely bothers with that, so I haven't consented to whatever fonts.googleapis.com, googleanalytics.com or googletagservices.com is trying to communicate with me this session. And as I actively try to block those, that suggests I'm not likely to consent in a hurry. But Google's very much hotel California in that it seems to assume you're always opting in, and can't leave.

    3. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: Not just location data

      I think the GDPR peeps missed a trick here -

      IANAL, I could be completely wrong, after that disclaimer, I believe under GDPR if you contacted Google and told them you withdraw consent from the tracking, that would be sufficient notice of "withdrawal of consent". You are not obligated to follow the burdensome procedures that they put in place. If they are still tracking you after that then they could be in breach of GDPR.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    well done Sir

    Well done that man ... hope this makes you rich !

    1. Flywheel Silver badge

      Re: well done Sir

      Napoleon needs crowdfunding - if everyone that had a beef with Google gave just £1 we'd have enough left to tackle the other vampires as well.

  8. m0rt Silver badge

    Bots on el-reg

    I noticed a couple of times that there seems to be a series on downvotes on commentards, just the odd one or two on *all* the posts. Which suggests that someone who takes a weird dislike to a particular set of articles or a bot that attempts to alter the appearence of consensus.

    El Reg - can you confirm if there is some weird activty on all comments in a short space of time?

    Is it the Russians?

    Or is there a greater conspiracy involving google? Or maybe Russian Google staff?

    Googley Bear.

    We should ask Julian for his take on this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bots on el-reg

      Schools still on holiday?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We should ask Julian for his take on this.

      Perhaps his friend Sandy might also have an opinion worth listening to.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bots on el-reg

      Not just El Reg ... I've noticed on a few newspaper websites, and forums that support an upvote/downvote system, some oddities in metrics and behaviour. Plus having a grounding in statistics means I'm a little more cynical about the truth there would have to be to support the picture being painted.

      I'm guessing that a human intelligence parses it, then directs the bots to up/downvote.

      Дешевая распродажа - когда проголосовали по-русски ...

      What's quite funny is when the bots are withdrawn for whatever reason (probably to undermine stability) and people that thought they were on the "right" side suddenly get exposed to the real world, and discover that no one agrees with them (anymore).

    4. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Bots on el-reg

      This is The Register. In my experience of many years on these forums, while there is often a general agreement on some topics, there is always space for outlying, alternative views, however left- (or right-) field or outright out-of-this-world insane (looking at you, man from mars :) )

      I love that and wouldn't have it any other way. Much better an open and (mostly) sensible(-ish) discussion with multiple points of view than the either a herd of consensus comments, or name-calling and outright nastiness that is found on so many other forums. In fact the forums are the main reason I prefer the Register over any other similar site.

      So some downvotes are to be expected on any post. Even this one of course :)

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Bots on el-reg

        Every post on the Gatwick article getting a downvote was a bit strange. It would be nice to see who upvotes/downvotes.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Bots on el-reg

          Every post on the Gatwick article getting a downvote was a bit strange. It would be nice to see who upvotes/downvotes.

          It is more than that.

          Every post that criticises Microsoft gets at least one downvote even if it was a clear FootGun moment.

          Then there are some posts by certain people that no matter how bland or agreeing (such as 'have an upvote for that') they also get at least one downvote.

          This post will probable garner at least one downvote but hey, this is life. You can never please all the people even part of the time even if they are a 'bot'.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Bots on el-reg

            "Every post that criticises Microsoft gets at least one downvote even if it was a clear FootGun moment."

            I suppose it's a living.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Bots on el-reg

          I down-voted some people on the Gatwick article, I think the people who suggested putting RPis on the back of the display screens, because I can't force them to have to do the resulting maintenance, just express my disapproval.

          1. eldakka Silver badge

            Re: Bots on el-reg

            I down-voted some people on the Gatwick article, I think the people who suggested putting RPis on the back of the display screens, because I can't force them to have to do the resulting maintenance, just express my disapproval.

            Did you also reply to at least one of those posts to express the reason for your disapproval?

            I don't particularly care about down votes, but I at least like to have some guidance on why I'm being downvoted. Even if it's just 1 reply but I have 10 downvotes, at least I have a general direction of what is going on. Am I just being a dick (ok, no explanation needed), or have I got something wrong in a technical article and my entire argument has fallen down because of that thing I got wrong? Or is it just a general disagreement on points of view (religious, political, etc.). You can't learn from your mistakes if you don't even know what they are.

      2. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Bots on el-reg

        I have to admit that I sometimes up-vote so many comments in a row that it may seem strange to the observer. Whenever I find a comment informative or funny/original I give an up-vote. The comments under some articles like "Who, Me?" are often very entertaining to me, so five up-votes in a row are not really exceptional. Similarly under "Something for the weekend, Sir?".

        I rarely down-vote, only for utter shite like conspiracy crap and pseudo science (as from Faux Science Slayer, who luckily has been slayed).

        The one with the "Peace" sign on it. ----------->

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bots on el-reg

        I relish in my down votes. It proves to the feminists that I, as a man, can multi-task.

        I can piss them off and amuse myself at the same time!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Bots on el-reg

          since your comment was downvoted, I felt oblidged to step into God's shoe(s) and restore the balance to the Universe (and I don't particularly disagree about your attitude or style it is presented in, so there).

    5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Bots on el-reg

      "I noticed a couple of times that there seems to be a series on downvotes on commentards, just the odd one or two on *all* the posts. Which suggests that someone who takes a weird dislike to a particular set of articles or a bot that attempts to alter the appearence of consensus."

      I think it works like this:

      A posts something egregiously wrong.

      B points it out.

      A is upset at being caught out. As it was clearly wrong he can't really contradict B.

      At this point most people would say the equivalent of "fair cop, guv", either publicly or, more usualy, to themselves and move on. A can't do this.

      A now shifts the blame for the damage to self-image to B and goes through B's posts, sometimes systematically, sometimes not, and downvotes them irrespective of what they said.

      Wear your stalker's downvotes with pride. It means that you were right and somebody hasn't forgotten.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It would be nice to see who upvotes/downvotes.

    And the timestamps too ....

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

      Re: It would be nice to see who upvotes/downvotes.

      > ...to see who upvotes/downvotes.

      Not sure, as that may trigger down-vote wars. I am glad this does not happen here (right???).

      1. eldakka Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: It would be nice to see who upvotes/downvotes.

        Not sure, as that may trigger down-vote wars.

        1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. I declare a downvote war!

        5.. 6.. 7.. 8.. maybe I should find myself a date?

  10. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Googlish terminology.

    "some" and "may" is googlish for "all" and "will" with 5 nines probability.

    My personal bugbear is when updating android resets all app permissions to legs akimbo and I'm not impressed that Android camera now requires microphone access before it'll let you take a still picture. (taking movies I can understand)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Googlish terminology.

      "and I'm not impressed that Android camera now requires microphone access before it'll let you take a still picture. (taking movies I can understand)"

      For android 6+, most permissions are asked when you starting up the app. If you really want to, you could just decline it until you actually use that function.

      If you are just paranoid about the camera tracking, then maybe you should use an open-source camera like Open camera when you can check that it isn't tracking you with the mic.

  11. SweDe

    Alternate title

    <tongue-in-cheek>Bloke hurls sueball over Google's 'can you track me now?' location data slurping</tongue-in-cheek>

  12. Merlinski
    Devil

    Don't be Evil

    Because we know where you are ...

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