Android users still patting themselves on the back for sticking with their brand and not falling for the iPhone can stop now. It turns out their every move is being tracked too, and likely for the same reasons.
Just days after two British researchers proved that owners of the latest models of the Apple iPhone and iPad have had their locations tracked by their devices, its been revealed that Android phones, using Google’s mobile operating system, also store users’ location and data, and in a very similar way.
The Guardian reports that Android phones do the same thing as iPhones and iPads – collect user location data and keep it in a file – although the existence of the Android file is not as easily accessible.
Swedish programmer Magnus Eriksson has shown that Android devices keep a short-term record of the locations and unique IDs of phone and Wi-Fi users, leaving it unknown, however, whether the lists are sent to Google. That differs from Apple, where the data is stored for up to a year.
Additional reporting by the Wall Street Journal provided more insights into why Silicon Valley giants like Apple and Google would want users’ geographic information.
Both Apple and Google regularly track and receive location data, the Journal reported, in an effort to build massive databases of users’ locations and tap into the $2.9 billion location-based services market.
The Journal cited online security analyst Samy Kamkar in reporting that Google has been collecting location data from its Android smartphones, just as researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden revealed on Wednesday that Apple has been storing unencrypted and unprotected logs of users’ locations in a hidden file.
“We’re not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it’s clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations,” wrote Allan and Warden about their finding.
Kamkar wrote on his website about Google that, “When the phone recognizes a wireless network (regardless of whether or not it’s encrypted), it sends information, including GPS coordinates, “up to the mothership.”
Google responded to the Journal in a statement, saying, “All location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user. We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”
Apple has not yet responded to the recent reporting, but it was revealed that the company had previously disclosed its location data practices in a letter to Congress last year.
Wired Magazine discovered and posted online a July 2010 response letter from Apple’s general counsel Bruce Sewall to Congressmen Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) explaining how and why the company gathers location data.
Sewall wrote that Apple, its partners and licensees, may collect, use and share customers’ precise location data, but added that the information is collected anonymously, requires customer consent and is stored in a database only accessibly to Apple.
Apple, and now likely Google too, is nonetheless facing tough questions again from Congress where at least two congressmen to date, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), have sent letters to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking for answers.