back to article Facebook, Google sued for 'secretly' slurping people's whereabouts – while Feds lap it up

Facebook and Google are being sued in two proposed class-action lawsuits for allegedly deceptively gathering location data on netizens who thought they had opted out of such cyber-stalking. The legal challenges stem from revelations earlier this year that even after users actively turn off "location history" on their …

  1. Keef

    All sneaky stuff.

    But I doubt much will change anytime soon and I also doubt most people are aware of this problem or the action being taken. Despite my efforts to educate most people still don't read El Reg.

    But sadly even if this does get to court and change is effected I think the only way not to have your phone track you will be to leave it at home and switched off in a Faraday cage.

    It would be nice if companies were open and honest, but let's face it that is not going to happen.

    I hope some transparency for users does come out of this though.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Most people don't care until

      I've had friends post some kind of creepy experience they've had where they were searching for a mattress store (for instance) on Google Maps on their phone, and then they start seeing ads for mattresses on their PC at work. How's that possible, they ask?

      That's when you can explain to them how it works, and have them actually care. Until they see it in action and get truly creeped out, it is all just "blah blah blah tech stuff I don't understand Google bad Facebook bad blah blah blah" to them.

      1. Mongrel

        Re: Most people don't care until

        "I've had friends post some kind of creepy experience they've had where they were searching for a mattress store (for instance) on Google Maps on their phone, and then they start seeing ads for mattresses on their PC at work. How's that possible, they ask?"

        Saw that when heard about stuff on the radio and went to check it out, that's why I started a seperate Google account for work.

        I try to keep my equipment as locked down as practical but don't want some of my... *ahem* greyer searches turning up on my works network potentially breaching the internet usage policy.

        1. Rich 2
          WTF?

          Re: Most people don't care until

          "...that's why I have a separate google account for work"

          Why have a google account at all???

          1. onefang Silver badge

            Re: Most people don't care until

            "...that's why I have a separate google account for work"

            'Why have a google account at all???'

            A place I worked at was using G-Suite, so everyone had a Google account. It was just hidden behind the companies domain.

            1. JohnFen Silver badge

              Re: Most people don't care until

              My workplace does this, too, but I figure that my work Google account isn't really mine, it's my employer's, so that doesn't count.

          2. Gene Cash Silver badge

            Re: Most people don't care until

            > Why have a google account at all???

            Because I refuse to put up with Apple's control-freakery, so about the only other available choice for a phone is Android. And Android pretty much requires a Google account.

            Yes, it sucks. So I hope lawsuits like this make a mark.

            1. JohnFen Silver badge

              Re: Most people don't care until

              "And Android pretty much requires a Google account."

              It doesn't for me -- I've been using Android for years without a Google account.

              1. MonkeyControl

                I've been using Android for years without a Google account

                I´ve been trying to stay beneath the radar in the same way for years with Sailfish.

          3. DougS Silver badge

            A separate google account isn't going to matter

            If you ever login to ... well, about anything given all the Google ads from doubleclick etc. everywhere ... from work, that's enough for Google to be able to link your work PC to your home PC. If you ever login to Facebook from work, that's enough for Facebook to link the two.

            All having a separate Google account will do is allow Google to know both are owned by the same person. And I agree with others, why the hell do you login to Google at all??? You might as well send them naked pictures of yourself, that's probably the only thing they have left to collect on you...

  2. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    The logical next step is for the Feds just to have the raw data sent directly to them via intercept at the towers or somewhere else in the system and cut out the middlemen. A win for the corporates as they can claim they "didn't know" and all will be well once again amongst the users.

    1. LoPath
      Black Helicopters

      StingRay

      "The logical next step is for the Feds just to have the raw data sent directly to them via intercept at the towers or somewhere else in the system and cut out the middlemen. A win for the corporates as they can claim they "didn't know" and all will be well once again amongst the users."

      They can already place their own "tower" near a suspect and collect data from everyone in the neighborhood.....

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stingray_phone_tracker

  3. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Good

    I'm not enough of a refusenik to eschew Android entirely, but I long ago turned off Location History and Web and App Activity when it became both creepy and annoying. Maps, of course, constantly badgers me about reenabling the latter in particular, so I filed a bug report with the Maps team telling their product manager to stop smoking crack. I guess I can join the class action suit now and receive my pittance of a settlement in ten years or so.

    As ever, allow me to also insert a plug for Blokada.

    1. Sampler

      Re: Good

      What I disliked about maps when I had the setting off, is you can no longer store bookmarks for work and home if you disable the tracking.

      Tracking my every move I do not want, being able to quickly click "home" and find the relative bus is entirely different, but apparently not to google maps.

      My laziness out won my paranoia though as I've re-enabled it, which I guess was their tactic all along.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Good

        There are other maps one can use, to stay off the geo-slurp - some of them might be more suited in specific areas to specific needs than others. I never open GMaps on my phone - I use an OpenStreetMap based completely offline app, but then again I'm a bit partial there...

        1. MonkeyControl

          but then again I'm a bit partial there

          No, I´m with you on this.

    2. TReko

      Re: Good

      Thanks for the Blokada link!

    3. Wade Burchette

      Re: Good

      Google Maps at one time would not work properly if you turned off the 'high accuracy' location and just used GPS satellites only. This was about 3 years ago. I had my phone on a windshield mount and every few miles it would say "searching for signal" even though it had a clear view to the sky. I still believe Google was sabotaging the app so that you would turn on high precision tracking. Even now, it still bugs me about turning on location services.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Good

        > it still bugs me about turning on location services.

        I noticed that's finally stopped in Oreo. I was able to stop using the one-click app I wrote to toggle GPS without hitting that dialog.

  4. ThatOne Bronze badge
    Big Brother

    OMG

    George Orwell, what have you done!...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OMG

      Google finished George Orwell years ago.

      They're now working their way through the Philip K. Dick songbook.

      1. MonkeyControl

        the Philip K. Dick songbook

        What a strange thought to brush my teeth and end the night on. Thanks for that.

  5. onefang Silver badge

    I don't use Google Search, nor Google Maps, but I do use Google Daydream (the VR thing, not the fancy "screensaver") that insists on having location turned on, despite not actually needing it for the function it performs. On the other hand, in my main browser I have some of the usual ad blockers we are all familiar with, and those few adverts that slip through are ignored.

    Though my favourite thing at the moment is that most of my web browsing goes via my European VPN (I'm in Australia), Google seem to be the only ones that think my European server is in Russia. So those few times I fire up an unprotected web browser to look at something that wont work otherwise, I get adverts in Russian, which I can't read anyway.

    Hey Google, I'm over here! Tough luck to the advertisers you sell my data to, wont do them any good.

  6. vtcodger Silver badge

    FWIW

    It appears that Google grabs location data wherever it can find it. I few weeks ago, I needed to figure out a driving distance and ended up telling Google Maps that my business address was in a small town about 2000km from my home. Viola -- Google News now thinks I live there.

    I don't actually care all that much. I never expected any privacy on the Web. But I do think Google's behavior is kind of rude. Sort of like hanging out on your front porch and observing the neighbors with binoculars.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Privacy » Location Services » Off ?

    I’m slightly confused: as far as I know, in iOS, Location Services can be “hard” switched off for individual or all apps, and Firefox has a “Never allow this site to track my location” setting.

    Is this therefore only really relevant for Android or Chrome addicts, both of which are known to have “Privacy” settings which don’t do quite what they claim (what a surprise from GRUgle)?

    1. EnviableOne Bronze badge

      Re: Privacy » Location Services » Off ?

      Ahh, but the folks in curpertino collect where you have been too, its just kept on your iThinghy (for know anyway)

      https://www.cultofmac.com/522515/how-to-see-iphone-significant-locations-map/

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Privacy » Location Services » Off ?

        Keeping it on your phone is the whole point of privacy. Apple provides the useful part (being able to use information about where you've been previously to help with searches etc.) without the creepy part (using that to targets ads at you about those locations when you are doing something unrelated on a totally separate device)

        Trying to equate this with what Google does is ridiculous, they are in no way comparable.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Privacy » Location Services » Off ?

        > Ahh, but the folks in curpertino collect where you have been too, its just kept on your iThinghy (for know anyway)

        Bull excrement.

        As the very article you linked to tells you, YOU CAN TURN IT OFF.

        Have you also noticed that on iOS, all OS *AND* app privacy settings are conveniently found in one place whilst on Android you have to go on a transatlantic deep-water fishing expedition to find them all.

        Apple value privacy. Google don't.

        The Android fanbois pay dearly for their misconstrued loyalty to the Google mothership.

  8. SImon Hobson Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Hmm, still no popcorn icon ! This could run for a while - both Google and Facebook are defending the core of their business model here, don't expect them to do anything other than drag it out and lie about what they are doing. It's vital for them that users and non-users* don't realise or care about what's going on.

    Facebook in particular treat you as a commodity to be tracked, profiled, and sold even if you don't have an account - c.f. Max Schrems case. What's more, for some of the online privacy options, you have to sign up for an account, in the process waiving your rights to privacy, in order to set the options for them to ignore.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Why do you say "Facebook in particular" does this? I don't see any difference between the two, other than it is easier to avoid deliberately becoming a Facebook user since they only provide a handful of services.

      Both Google and Facebook have trackers in every corner of the web, making it pretty much impossible to avoid becoming part of their dataset. Its just that there are a lot fewer people who can say "I never have and never will use any Google service" than can say the same about Facebook.

  9. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Works the other way also

    Leave your phone at home (or elsewhere) while you go out to commit an armed robbery, and it will provide you with a pretty reasonable alibi these days ...

    Better yet, ship it to a friend in a distant city, who ships it back to you upon receipt, and your alibi gets stronger (ship it connected to a power bank if its battery would not otherwise last long enough).

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Works the other way also

      Shipping it would raise lots of red flags, like when it stops and hangs around in a shipping facility for a few hours several times during transit.

      Perhaps better to stash it in the bed of your next door neighbor's pickup before he goes camping for the weekend, that way it looks like you left your house and went camping for the weekend. Then you don't have the highly suspicious stops in shipping facilities, or have a friend that knows your alibi is a fraud who could blackmail you later.

      1. Scroticus Canis Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: Works the other way also @DougS

        Sod's Law dictates the neighbour would have gone a crime spree and now your sharing a cell with him thanks to GoogleFace.

        Better leave it at home strapped to the dogs collar so it moves about the house and garden.

  10. martinusher Silver badge

    You have a phone, people know where you are

    Its really that simple. Google and Facebook are using information that's inherent to the operation of all mobile devices. So -- if you think the Feds are getting your location from them, that's second hand data, its easier to just get it from the service provider.

    You can't turn it off because unfortunately that's how the equipment works. Your equipment might like to give you the illusion of privacy because its easier to do this than try to explain to people what's going on and why.

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: You have a phone, people know where you are

      "You can't turn it off because unfortunately that's how the equipment works."

      Yes, for cell phone providers. That in no way applies to Google, Facebook, etc. Or shouldn't anyway. There is no inherent infrastructural need for any of those companies to have access to your location (or any other) information.

  11. elvisimprsntr

    Kudos to Apple for holding on to their principals, but timing of Tim's public speech and the these lawsuits seems like more than a coincidence.

    https://www.dailydot.com/debug/tim-cook-data-weaponization-speech/

    It's a war between Apple and everyone else for your wallet. Apple makes money on products and services. G and FB make money off advertising.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > G and FB make money off advertising.

      Yup. People forget Google is an advertising company that happens to run a search engine and email service, and that Facebook is an advertising company that happens to run a social media website.

      People moan about the price of Apple products (a complaint which is normally unfounded once you compare like for like and also look at the high quality and reliability of Apple's products). I would rather just pay what is perceived by some to be "more cash" and have my privacy assured rather than get something on the cheap but have to bend over in the shower to pick up the privacy soap that Google has dropped on the floor.

      1. MonkeyControl

        high quality and reliability of Apple's products

        The perceived quality and reliability of crapple products is questionable and subjective, "what is perceived by some to be "more cash"" IS more cash, your privacy is not assured, get ready with the soap in the shower.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019