Unredacted Google Lawsuit Docs Details Efforts to Collect User Location

Recently unredacted documents in a lawsuit against Google reveal that the company’s own executives and engineers knew how difficult the company had made it difficult for smartphone users to keep their location data private.

Google continued to collect location data even as users turned off various location sharing settings, made popular privacy settings harder to find, and even pressured LG and other phone makers to hide them. settings precisely because users liked them, according to the documents.

Jack Menzel, a former vice president overseeing Google Maps, admitted in a deposition that the only way for Google to determine a user’s home and place of business would be to intentionally throw Google off the beaten track by setting his home and his work. addresses like other random locations.

Jen Chai, senior product manager at Google in charge of location services, was unsure how the company’s complex web of privacy settings interacted with each other, according to the documents.

Google and LG did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

The documents are part of a lawsuit filed against Google by the Arizona attorney general’s office last year, which accused the company of illegally collecting location data from smartphone users, even after it was taken down.

A judge ordered new sections of the documents not to be redacted last week in response to a request from business groups Digital Content Next and News Media Alliance, who argued it was in the public interest to know and that Google was using its legal resources to remove scrutiny from its data collection practices.

The unsealed versions of the documents paint an even more detailed picture of how Google has obscured its data collection techniques, confusing not only its users but also its own employees.

Google uses a variety of means to collect user location data, according to documents, including WiFi and even third party applications not affiliated with Google, forcing users to share their data in order to use those applications or, in some case even to connect. their phones to WiFi.

“So there is no way you can give your location to a third party app and not to Google?” an employee said, according to the documents, adding: “This doesn’t look like something we would like on the front page of the [New York Times]. “

When Google tested versions of its Android operating system that made it easier to find privacy settings, users took advantage, which Google saw as a “problem,” according to the documents. To resolve this issue, Google then sought to bury these settings deeper into the settings menu.

Google has also tried to convince smartphone makers to hide location settings “through active misrepresentation and / or concealment, deletion or omission of facts” – that is, data available to Google. showing that users were using these settings – “in order to calm down [manufacturers’] confidentiality issues. “

Google employees seem to recognize that users are frustrated by the company’s aggressive data collection practices, which can hurt its business.

“Fail # 2: * I * should be able to get * my * location on * my * phone without sharing this information with Google,” one employee said.

“Maybe that’s how Apple eats our lunch,” they added, saying Apple was “much more likely” to allow users to enjoy location-based apps and services on their phones without sharing data with them. Apple.

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