Google’s ‘My Location’ a Threat to Privacy?

December 1st, 2007 - 12:47 am ICT by admin  

In light of recent reports that federal agents routinely request cell phone tracking data from cellular companies, the announcement by Google of its new “My Location” feature for the mobile version of Google Maps raises some serious privacy concerns.

On Wednesday, Google announced that users of version 2.0 of Google Maps for mobile would be able to see their approximate location on the mobile map. Rather than rely strictly on GPS, which is not available in all phones and can drain mobile batteries quickly, Google uses cell tower ID information to calculate the device’s location.

The accuracy of the mapping depends to a large degree on how far away the device is from the nearest cell towers. In a quick test in the Burlington, Vermont area yesterday, the “My Location” feature was very accurate on the University of Vermont campus but was off by three blocks in the downtown area.

Truly Anonymous?

According to the Google press release, the “My Location” feature is anonymous: “Google does not gather any personally identifiable information or associate any location data with personally identifiable information as part of the My Location feature.” The company also said that anyone who does not want to use the feature can disable it.

But some privacy advocates remain unconvinced. “Google’s mobile maps creates an unnecessary privacy risk,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said in an e-mail.

In his view, it is safer and more private for consumers to use a standalone GPS device for location information. “A typical GPS device leaves the user in control of mapping data and search histories are easy to delete,” Rotenberg said.

A query to Google for more specific information about its “My Location” feature was unanswered at the time this article was filed, but the company’s own “Mobile Privacy Policy” raises more…

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