Google has never been one to be associated with privacy in a positive light but it has admittedly been making strides in improving that image. Perhaps it is in part due to the scrutiny and legal sanctions the company has been slapped with over the years and also in part due to the popularity Apple enjoys over its championing of privacy practices. This, however, might be something new for Google as unredacted documents in an Arizona lawsuit show the extent the old Google went through to make it harder for users to keep their location private.
It is no secret that, just like Facebook, Google makes a profit out of knowing things about people. And just like Facebook, it has also suffered the consequences of its encompassing reach. What is still secret, however, are some of the strategies it employed in order to get at that data, even when users already told it “no”.
Arizona sued Google last year over its data collection practices and how it kept on collecting location data from Android phones even when users disabled that data sharing. Documents presented as evidence were ordered to be unredacted last week at the behest of trade groups who insisted that such information was in the public’s interests. Unsurprisingly, that was indeed the case and revealed how Google allegedly deceived not just users but other Android phone makers as well in order to dissuade them from making privacy settings easier to find and understand.
According to testimony from Google’s own employees and even executives, the company was able to gather location data even when users opted out of that by using Wi-Fi location and even data from third-party apps that have no relation to Google. Google reportedly also made it harder for users to find and use privacy settings and convinced OEMs like LG to follow suit. Neither Google and LG commented on Business Insider’s report.
These days, Google is doing the exact opposite, at least in the public’s eyes. Android 12 is set to make it a lot easier to find those settings and control them and to see which apps are using which capabilities, hopefully including Google’s own apps and services. Of course, that change in direction may have also been motivated partly by profits because, as one employee remarked, Google’s alleged disregard and disrespect for privacy is how Apple was eating its lunch.