Google Needs to Follow Apples Example

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-05-07 Print this article Print


The same is probably true about Android's location cache. I'm pretty sure that Google keeps track of the location of vast numbers of cell sites and WiFi access points. The reason I'm sure is that when I turn on an Android device, it can pinpoint my location almost instantly, regardless of whether it's in a position to have a view of GPS satellites or not.

Apparently one or more of the WiFi access points in my office is in Google's database; when I turn on an Android device and as soon as it spots the AP, it knows the location. This is confirmed by the time I gave a relative one of my old APs, and for a month or so, her Android phone was convinced that she was in my office instead of nearly 200 miles away. Eventually Google apparently updated its database, and the location was correct.

While Apple is going to have to suffer through some questioning even though the company has done what it can to fix the problem while retaining the ability to use location-based services, there will be many people who see a vast conspiracy. The reality is that they should be looking at Google. The company has admitted that it tracked the location of WiFi access points while also gathering photos for its Street View feature in Google Maps.

So the more important question may be, what is Google doing with all of that location data? Is the company continuing to collect information from WiFi access points after it was forced to stop doing so with its Street View photo cars? The difference between Google and Apple is that Google is in the business of selling this location information in a variety of ways. One has to wonder if the access point in your living room is part of some great Google database that the company is selling to someone.

Chances are pretty good that it is, but protecting yourself is fairly easy. Even better, protecting yourself is something you should do anyway. Just turn on WPA encryption and the ID information of the access point is also encrypted. Google won't be able to use it. It's worth mentioning that this also means your neighbors and people on the street won't be able to use your access to the Internet either, which is a good security practice.

I think it's a point in Apple's favor that the company fixed what was obviously becoming a public relations nightmare as quickly as it did. The issue of privacy in terms of location tracking is important, and while the company could have stalled and hoped the problem would go away, instead it stepped up to the plate and solved the problem.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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