Smartphones and location data

There have been some worrisome revelations recently about Apple and Google tracking people by the location of their cell phones. In Google’s case, the tracking may be part of an advertising strategy.

It seems like online privacy is really a losing battle these days. Perhaps consumer anger about these latest tracking allegations will encourage regulators to keep a closer eye on what sort of monitoring technologies are being deployed without the full understanding of consumers.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

5 thoughts on “Smartphones and location data”

  1. The crazy guys over at are begging you for the location data that your iPhone collected without you being aware of it. All your data will be anonymized, and the whole combined data set of all donations will be shared under an OpenDataCommons license. Those people are data and visualization geeks and create beautiful visualizations like this from the data. They previously did a visualization of data retention caused by the German ‘Vorratsdatenspeicherung.’ Please consider donating your location data. …and be fast, too, since the upcoming iOS software update (see Apple press release) will prevent further evaluation of the collected data.”

  2. Google, with users’ permission, collects information about wireless networks surrounding mobile devices powered by Google’s Android operating system. It also gets information about the location of wireless networks near personal computers if the PCs’ owners are using Google’s Chrome Web browser or versions of some other browsers.

    Tech companies are using such information to build databases of millions of wireless networks, or Wi-Fi “access points,” which help determine the approximate location of phones and computers attached to those networks. Using Wi-Fi is more accurate than satellite-based signals known as GPS, Google has said.

  3. Wi-Fi systems on smartphones and laptops may be used to secretly report the locations of users, their family and friends unless changes are made to their design, warns Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian.

    Wi-Fi devices have unique addresses that are being used in mapping systems built and maintained by companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Research In Motion, Skyhook and others, Cavoukian said in a report released Tuesday.

    In the future, the user’s device may be able to relay the addresses of friends, family members and co-workers, the paper warned, “turning him or her into an ‘unknowing informant,’ revealing the location of others who are not necessarily participating in location-based services.”

    To prevent that type of incident from arising in the future, the paper recommended that “in no case” should the unique address of a mobile user’s device — known as media access control (MAC) address — be collected or recorded without the user’s consent.

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