Privacy advocates are up in arms after recent reports detailing Google’s efforts to track the location of cell phone users even when the location services are turned off.
The most damaging report came from the Associated Press which describes how many apps from Google continue to collect and store location data even after a user disables location services.
These reports caught the eye of Christie McNally, a privacy and First Amendment advocate.
“Over the past year and a half we have seen a lot of bad actions from Google and Facebook. So when these two articles came out about the data collection, it didn’t shock me, but the scope of it did kind of surprise me,” McNally said.
At first, the evidence according to McNally was anecdotal.
“My son would have a conversation with me in front of his Google Home and then the next day something would show up in his news feed, those kinds of things,” McNally said.
According to Vanderbilt University Professor Douglas Schmidt, a dormant and stationary Android phone (with the Chrome browser active in the background) communicated location information to Google 340 times during a 24-hour period.
McNally says this is a simple violation of decency standards
“I don’t have time to sit there with my phone to make sure that I am not being tracked. I should have one button on my phone that says ‘do not track me’, and I should be able to turn that button off and on as I like and be able to trust that it is doing what I want it to do,” McNally said.
Now McNally says it is time for the company to face regulators.
“Some people say that in this day and age you shouldn’t expect privacy and you should expect that if you want the convenience of these kinds of things, you have to give up something, and I don’t believe that. I think that if you have a device and you turn certain things off such as your location finder, that should be something that is a trust between you and a company. It should have that trust and that trust should not be broken, and clearly Google does not,” McNally noted.
She wants the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step in and regulate the tech giant and other companies that track data and sell it to other companies. McNally has made her first target Google, in part, because of what she calls a “soft monopoly” because of the high number of internet and mobile phone searches the company controls in the marketplace.
“After all, how often do you now say go ‘search something’ versus saying ‘Google it?’” she asked.
“There isn’t really anything in your everyday like that you can do where you are not using a Google product, and you really can’t get away from it,” she added.
Another concern that McNally has is the midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election. While she does not think Google would hack the elections, she said the company could influence the elections by providing or withholding information.
“They can sway votes,” McNally said. “With the Google search engine, the way that they can manipulate the search engine what you can see in what you and what you don’t see. The same thing with YouTube. The videos that are allowed on and not allowed on, that is problematic to me.”
So what can a consumer do about what some people believe is a blatant invasion of privacy by Google and other data mining companies? Not much. It is a laborious process but you can get information Google has collected about your locations deleted. Those instructions can be found here.
Florida Daily reached out to Google numerous times for this story to get more information on data collection and whether or not they oppose regulation of the industry. Google did not respond to Florida Daily’s requests.
Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.