Saturday, April 23, 2011

Apple's iPhones and Google's Androids Send Cellphone Location

Apple Inc.'s iPhones and Google Inc.'s Android smartphones regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google, respectively, according to data and documents analyzed by The Wall Street Journal—intensifying concerns over privacy and the widening trade in personal data.

Google and Apple are gathering location information as part of their race to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people's locations via their cellphones. These databases could help them tap the $2.9 billion market for location-based services—expected to rise to $8.3 billion in 2014, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

In the case of Google, according to new research by security analyst Samy Kamkar, an HTC Android phone collected its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour. It also transmitted the name, location and signal strength of any nearby Wi-Fi networks, as well as a unique phone identifier.

Google declined to comment on the findings.

Until last year, Google was collecting similar Wi-Fi data with its fleet of StreetView cars that map and photograph streets world-wide. The company shut down its StreetView Wi-Fi collection last year after it inadvertently collected e-mail addresses, passwords and other personal information from Wi-Fi networks. The data that Mr. Kamkar observed being transmitted on Android phones didn't include such personal information.

Apple, meanwhile, says it "intermittently" collects location data, including GPS coordinates, of many iPhone users and nearby Wi-Fi networks and transmits that data to itself every 12 hours, according to a letter the company sent to U.S. Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) last year. Apple didn't respond to requests for comment.

The Google and Apple developments follow the Journal's findings last year that some of the most popular smartphone apps use location data and other personal information even more aggressively than this—in some cases sharing it with third-party companies without the user's consent or knowledge.

Apple this week separately has come under fire after researchers found that iPhones store unencrypted databases containing location information sometimes stretching back several months. ...

Unlike many cell-phone-enabled violations of your privacy, whose purpose is mainly to enrich the app maker, the storage of location data on iPhones and the gathering of location data by Android phones at least provide benefits to users and are under user control.

The database works behind the scenes mainly to improve wireless data service, traffic maps and other basic functions of a smartphone.

Location data isn't even gathered if location services are turned off.

Yes, the storage of unencrypted location data on your phone is a potential privacy breach waiting to happen. But there's a whole list of privacy violations taking place through your phone every day.

The hard reality is that there's only one way to guarantee privacy with a cell phone: Remove the battery.

via Apple's iPhones and Google's Androids Send Cellphone Location -

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