Google defends way it gets phone data

April 26, 2011 - 0:0

Amid rising scrutiny of their practices, Google Inc. defended the way it collects location data from Android phones, while Apple Inc. remained silent for a third day.

The companies' smartphones regularly transmit locations back to Google and Apple servers, respectively, according to data and documents analyzed by The Wall Street Journal.
Research by a security analyst this week found that an Android phone collected location data every few seconds and sent it to Google several times an hour. Apple disclosed in a letter to Congress last year that its phones “intermittently” collect location data, and the company receives it twice a day.
Both companies have said users can prevent the data collection by turning off location-based services, although doing so limits functions such as maps.
On Friday, a Google spokesman said “all location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user.”
However, this definition of “opt-in” doesn't mean the system is off by default for people who use the typical Android set-up. Rather, when a user activates an Android phone, a screen appears saying Google's service provides location to applications and that it will collect anonymous data even when no apps are running. The box to accept this is checked by default, but the user can uncheck it. For users who bypass this process entirely, location services aren't turned on.
“We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices,” the Google spokesman said.
There are ways for users to block the transmission of location information by Android devices and iPhones-although doing so limits important smartphone functions such as maps. WSJ's Jennifer Valentino explains.
He added that “any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”
Tests of the Android phone showed the transmissions included a unique ID that is tied to the phone. Google says this ID is associated with location and not with other user information. The user can change this number by performing a “factory reset” of the device, which deletes the phone's data.
Google has long defended its collection of location as helpful in providing services, such as accurate traffic maps, and its stance hasn't changed amid the recent disclosures.
Apple, which also came under scrutiny this week when researchers revealed its iPhones store location data for months, didn't respond to requests for comment.
(Source: The Wall Street Journal)