Remember that big thing about Google and Apple tracking people? The one that was blown so much out of proportion that you’d think Eric Schmidt was about to become the dictator in a technological police state? Yea, it’s still going. Now, legislators are trying to make sure that Google, Apple and others like them are in their places. They want to pass a bill that requires every OEM be granted users’ permission before enabling location services. Their argument?
Geolocation technology gives us incredible benefits, but the same information that allows emergency responders to locate us when we’re in trouble is not necessarily information all of us want to share with the rest of the world. This legislation would give people the right to know what geolocation data is being collected about them and ensure they give their consent before it’s shared with others.
Here’s the quick rundown of what they want to happen:
- Google must be granted permission before location services can be used
- Information must be shielded, meaning it shouldn’t be easy to take a quick look at the location services’ cache file
- Information must be deleted when it is no longer needed
In some form or another, Google already does all of this. At every device activation, users are asked whether or not they want to enable location services. If they say no, then they simply don’t use GPS or any other applications that use location information to better the experience. Some users may not have witnessed this because they often have the person who sells them the phone set it up for them.
The cache file where Google stores all of this is attainable, but only if a user has rooted their phone. The story is that less than 5% of Android users root their devices. We’re not sure if that’s accurate, but let’s assume that is. Of that low 5%, we’re sure a majority of them know how to safeguard themselves from malicious attacks against any data on their phone, including whatever is inside the location cache files.
Google doesn’t proactively delete cache information at regular intervals, but they give users the option to at will. A quick trip to your settings > applications menu will get you on your way. And whenever, if ever, you decide to turn location services off, those files are deleted with nary a trace.
To go even further, Google doesn’t just allow applications to use location data all willy-nilly without the users knowing at the time they download the application. Users get a full list of permissions the application requests before they install it. It’s up to them to read the permissions and decide whether or not they want to install that application.
Yes, malware scares as of late have all but made this useless with the ability to download and enable code after an application is installed, but Google and the many security advocates they work with do a good job of spotting and removing these applications not only from the Android market, but from anyone’s phones who may have them installed.
The motive behind legislature isn’t entirely clear to me, but I would guess it’s to make sure the mobile industry stays honest no matter who users choose. It’s still silly to me, though, as they’d only be enforcing this on software vendors who have more than 5,000 users.That puts a hell of a lot of Android, iOS, Windows, WebOS, Symbian and Blackberry users into the mix.
What they’re essentially saying is that it’s ok for companies to be reckless with users’ location data if they aren’t popular. It makes me wonder if they’re just doing this to make examples out of the big software vendors. I know most of their actions look to protect and secure consumer data, and believe me, I have no problem with what they’re proposing, but their eligibility guidelines make no sense and it makes the bill look like nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to all of the fear-mongering that’s been going on.