Android News

Don’t let tech ignorance lead to foolish lawsuits [Android location scares]

April 29, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka

Android OS

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There are two residents of Oakland County, Michigan, who have decided to sue Google because of Android tracking issues. The HTC Inspire 4G owners claim that Android tracking phones exposes users to a “serious risk of privacy invasions, including stalking.”

I’m sure these two people are of fine Midwestern stock and are probably good people. They are probably just misinformed about technology, so I will refrain from insulting them. Besides, it’s not their fault that America has fostered a culture where the slightest perceived threat encourages eager lawyers from pouncing on companies with deep pockets, hoping to get a big payday or settlement.

But since these plaintiffs obviously know nothing of Android or that HTC Inspire 4G that they think is such a massive security threat, let’s provide some clarity on the issue:

You agreed to this, dummy. I know I said I wouldn’t insult them, but I say “dummy” lovingly. The plaintiffs deny agreeing to send their data to Google, but they are either lying, don’t remember giving their consent, or have poor reading comprehension skills. Every Android phone displays a warning during the set-up process and it clearly states that Google can track your movements to improve search and location-based services, but only if you consent to send data. The plaintiffs may not remember or may have made the mistake of letting someone else set-up their phones, but the warning was there before they ever took a glance at HTC Sense.

The data is anonymous. Google has stated on several occasions that the data it receives is anonymous and not tied to the user (except when concerning Google Latitude). The plaintiff’s lawyer claims that tracking exposes them to risks of stalking, but that’s a gross misrepresentation designed to scare people. The way that location data is stored on Android, a potential stalker would have a much easier time breaking into someone’s home, installing nefarious software on the phone, and then monitoring the plaintiffs from the comfort of a bad guy’s lair.

Information is already available. The plaintiffs’ lawyer complained that Google is monitoring location “just as if by a tracking device for which a court-ordered warrant would ordinarily be required.” That’s interesting considering that cell phone companies track what cell towers your phone pings, stores the information longer than your phone’s cache, and isn’t shy about giving that information to law enforcement agents. So people are getting upset because a company is collecting anonymous location data or storing cached data required to use LBS apps, even though your carrier has more data on you?

If you’re concerned with what Google does with your private data, it’s probably in your best interest that you not get a credit card, subscribe to a magazine, or do anything else with your name on it because your personal data is routinely sold and traded between marketers and financial companies. Much more important and sensitive information about you floats with ease.

Google knows that Phone X was at Starbucks and had a great Wi-Fi reception. Other companies know that John Doe, owner of Phone X, was at Starbucks and had green tea, a scone, reads Wired magazine, owns a Nook Color, lives at 23 Green Street, works as a math teach, etc. Go try suing those folks because your phone is the least of your concerns.

[Detroit News and Bloomberg]