Google Tracks You Too, Internal E-mails Show

Artwork: Chip Taylor
A series of internal e-mails from last year highlights how important location data is to Google, and likely gives more ammunition to privacy advocates over how these companies track your every move.

The e-mails were written by then-CEO Larry Page following a move by Motorola to replace Google's location service system within its phones with that of a competitor, Skyhook. According to the e-mails obtained by the San Jose Mercury News, Page wasn't too happy about Motorola's decision.

"Can I get an answer on this?" he demanded of his executive team. The e-mails were obtained as part of court documents surrounding a suit between Skyhook and Google.

Google Wants to Know Where You Are

Several executives, including Android head Andy Rubin, quickly answered, stressing that tracking location data is indeed important to Google. They also said it was even more so following public outcry over its attempts to collect Wi-Fi hotspot location data via its Street View cars.

Both Google and Skyhook use Wi-Fi hotspot data to triangulate a position of the smartphone. Algorithms measure distance from Wi-Fi hotspots in the database to determine location, which is necessary due to the often inaccurate nature of readings solely from cell phone towers, and more accurate.

Location data is a big business for these companies, as the data allows them to provide location-based services such as target advertising, or play a critical role in check-in applications like Foursquare or Facebook's system. However, these companies have also had a hard time coming clean about it, since some consumers may see it as a breach of their privacy.

Apple: Not the Only One

So far, Apple has seemed to get the brunt of the fallout from this, however they are not the only one doing it. As you read above, Google's real interested in it -- and Microsoft is too. About the only company we haven't heard any confirmation yet that some type of data collection is going on is RIM, but I'd be surprised if it was not.

Regardless of what these companies are doing with this location data, in my opinion they should also be giving consumers the right to opt out of the collection. So far, Android is the only operating system that allows for this: to my knowledge you cannot turn the tracking off in either Windows Phone nor iOS.

iOS does allow for the opting out of location based services, but it is yet unclear if that stops the tracking that so many privacy advocates are up in arms about.

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