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Privacy fears growing over phone tracking

Washington, April 23, 2011

The row over the privacy of mobile phone users escalated yesterday (April 22) as it was revealed that Google devices regularly transmit user locations back to the company.

The new revelations come after Apple was this week slammed by several US Congress members for the way user locations are being stored in unencrypted databases on the iPhone and iPad, sometimes stretching back several months.

In Google's case an Android HTC phone tracked its location every few seconds and transmitted the data back to Google several times an hour, according to new research by security analyst Samy Kamkar for the Wall Street Journal.

It also transmitted the name, location and signal strength of any close Wi-Fi networks and the phone's unique identifier, said a report in our sister publication, the Gulf Daily News.

Both Google and Apple have previously admitted they are using location data to build massive databases of Wi-Fi hotspots.

This can then be used to pinpoint individual's locations via their mobile phones, which in turn could help the companies tap into the huge market for location-based services, currently worth $2.9 billion. This figure is expected to rise to a staggering $8.3 billion in 2014, according to research company Gartner.

Location data is some of the most valuable information a mobile phone can provide, since it can tell advertisers not only where someone's been, but also where they might be going - and what they might be inclined to buy when they get there.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada told the Journal the office 'had concerns' about using mobile phones to collect Wi-Fi data and had expressed those concerns to Google itself.

'The whole issue of the tracking capabilities of new mobile devices raises significant privacy issues,' she said.

In the past Google has pointed out that its collected Wi-FI data is anonymous and that it deletes the start and end points of every trip it uses for traffic maps.

But, the data, provided to the Journal exclusively by Kamkar, contained a unique identifier linked to an individual's phone. – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Apple | privacy | Washington | Google Phone tracking |

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