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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Google says Android location information is anonymous, deleted after a week


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Google said Tuesday that its Android operating system tracks a user's location anonymously and deletes the data after about one week.
"The location information sent to Google servers when users opt in to location services on Android is anonymized and stored in the aggregate and is not tied or traceable to a specific user," Google said in prepared remarks for Alan Davidson, the company's director of public policy.
"The collected information is stored with a hashed version of an anonymous token, which is deleted after approximately one week."
Davidson is set to read the statement before a Senate subcommittee investigating mobile privacy, in particular location data tracking by Google and Apple, which have both come under fire recently as Android phones and the iPhone have been known to track such information.
Apple released a software update to its iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS, last week that reduces the amount of data stored by the devices and enables users to delete the log of recorded locations.
Guy Tribble, Apple's vice president of software technology, is set to testify at Tuesday's Senate hearing as well.
In Davidson's remarks, Google says that a small amount of location information regarding nearby Wi-Fi access points and cellphone towers is kept on Android devices "to help the user continue to enjoy the service when no server connection is available and to improve speed and battery life. This information on the device is likewise not tied or traceable to a specific user."
In the prepared testimony, Google also discussed its Google Location Server, an Internet database on Google servers with information from Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.
Google does allow cellphone and tablet makers to install and license a Google Network Location Provider application on Android devices, which can determine a user's estimated location using the Google Location Server. "This Network Location Provider is turned off by default, and can be turned on by the user during the phone's initial setup or in the device settings," the prepared testimony says
Google did caution that while the Network Location Provider app does help save battery life by not forcing the phone to use taxing GPS servers over its own location-tracking methods, third-party app developers may use the data for their own reasons.
"When an Android application is not developed by Google, the application developer bears the responsibility for the design of the application, which includes responsibility for how the application collects and handles user data and the privacy disclosures made to users," Google said.
"If the user chooses to trust an application with location information by proceeding with the installation after viewing the location-related permissions, then that application could potentially store this location information on the device or transmit the information off the device if the application also has the Internet access permission.
"Google does not control the behavior of third party applications or how they handle location information and other user information that the third party application obtains from the device."

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