It's Important for Google to Have Your Location for Better Targeted Ads – Prof

© AP Photo / Marcio Jose SanchezGoogle headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. 2013
Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. 2013 - Sputnik International
Google services on Android devices and iPhones have been revealed to store user location data despite privacy settings. Kevin Curran, Professor of Cyber Security at the Faculty of Computing, Engineering & Built Environment at Ulster University, has given his take on the matter.

Kevin Curran: It’s not a surprise in some ways that Google do have history in doing this. In 2007, they were found to be tracking weather access points, when the Google street cars were traveling around. Last year, we found that there were recordings selling IDs from mobile masts, when you are on your phone.

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Now we find that when you turn off location history in your phone, it still actually records your location when you get weather updates on your app or you even open Google maps application on your phone; that it still records where you are, even though you may have gone into settings and explicitly turned off  to stop tracking your location history.

Sputnik: Why are they doing this?

Kevin Curran: It comes down to the advertising. Last quarter, Google had 32 billion dollars in revenue; 90 percent of their income comes from advertising. […] It's less expensive for people to actually buy ads on mobiles. So, Google don’t make as much money on it. What is very important for Google is that they have your location. They provide a tool for advertisers, which allows them to see demographics, to see regions and to be able to target people, especially within a particular region.

And that allows them to make more money from the ads. So, really, the more information, especially location that Google have, the more ads, the more revenue they can make from ads. So what it really comes down to is that they really don’t want you to turn off your location history. They’ll tell you that it makes your adds more specific, that you get better services, and to a degree, that is true […].

But really the problem here is that if you have a setting that allows you to turn off your location history and you find later that it doesn’t do that, then really, they’ve got to be responsible for that, and have got to be taken to task about that, to be more explicit, more visible, more obvious for users that want to turn of the location history. That they believe  that it’s turned off, and that their phone is not being tracked.

Sputnik: What are the possible implications as far as misuse of this information? Could this actually put people into danger in certain situations?
Kevin Curran: Some people have never probably gone into the time line in Google.

It shows you where you have been. If you have it turned on, which most people do, you can see all your travels, where you were down to street level, you can see the photographs you've taken at that time. If you go to My Activity on Google, you will see not only your search history, obviously, you'll see what places you have been to, the places you travelled, but it also shows, for instance, how many times you opened WhatsApp, how many times you opened any of the apps on your phone. It's got really detailed information there.

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If people do get access to your My Activity in your Google service, you have really really sensitive information […] that you really don't want anyone to see. It's really sensitive, and of course, there are a lot of people out there who do not want their location to be tracked. […] The vast majority of phones out there all use the Google services, the Google apps like this, every single Android device.

It also does affect you if you are on iOS, of course. Google pay Apple a lot of money to have their services on the iOS platform. And again, it is the Google thing that will still track you there even if you have turned it off. Really, as a Google feature that is not working as overtly as we thought it should work has not been as clear about it, especially when you turn it off. It doesn't matter what phone you are on: if you are using a Google service, this is still tracking you.

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.

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