Google Maps app could violate European data protection law

By , Dec 16, 2012

I read an interesting article the other day by Evan Wiener on why Apple dropped Google from Maps in iOS 6. Wiener suggested that Google was withholding features, like voice-guided navigation, as a negotiation tactic to get Apple to agree with deeper Google integration, and Apple finally said enough’s enough.

The well-connected John Gruber confirms that he’s heard a similar story from numerous sources — more specifically, that Google was wanting to collect user data for serving up targeted ads, and Apple said no. And wouldn’t you know it, it seems Google’s trying to do the same thing in its new Maps app

Computerworld highlights a report from the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection, a German watchdog group, that expresses concerns about Google Map’s location data sharing:

“When the app is downloaded, Google prompts users to accept its terms of service and privacy policy in the startup screen. On the same screen, the Maps app warns users that they are about to share their location data with Google. “Help us improve Google, including traffic and other services. Anonymous location data will be collected by Google’s location service and sent to Google, and may be stored on your device,” Google tells users.

However, the option box next to the text is switched on by default, which isn’t allowed by European data protection law, said Marit Hansen, deputy privacy and information commissioner at the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, in an email.”

The big deal here is that Google’s use of the term “anonymous” is a bit misleading. The ICPP’s deputy privacy commissioner Marit Hansen tells Computerworld that all available information points to having “linkable identifiers per user,” thus, this would be considered “personal data” under the European law.

And under European law, a company must get informed consent from their users before processing their personal data. Hansen believes that the current implementation in the Google Maps app does not comply with that code, and promises that the issue will be discussed further by members of the European government.

This certainly isn’t the first time Google’s user data policies have been called into question. Just a few months ago, the US Government hit the Mountain View search company with a $22.5 million fine after it was caught overriding Safari users’ privacy settings in order to better track their web browsing activity.

Now, I understand that a majority of Google’s revenue comes from advertisements — targeted ads to be more specific — and I understand that it needs user data to pull that off. But I just get the feeling that this constant invasion of privacy, or ‘bending of the rules,’ if you will, is going to come back and bite them some day.

What do you think?

  • Share:
  • Follow:
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000514380051 John Sklikas

    Guess: Update is coming which will have the prompt unchecked automatically, and existing users will be asked to answer this prompt again which will be unchecked by default. I don’t see an issue here, that’s only 1 minute of coding.

    • http://twitter.com/AflekBen Nemanja

      The issue is that google does not want to follow rules and invades users privacy on purpose, hoping nobody will notice! And when they do get caught, they act as nothing had happend and they did nothing wrong…

      • http://twitter.com/jrgibson1 Jayar

        ^^ Couldn’t have said it better myself.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000514380051 John Sklikas

        This is true, and this how they get money. Once the update comes, they will have earned millions of dollars and in the worst case, they will be fined to pay the 1/5th of what they earned. No matter what, they will always get money.

      • Falk M.

        Preach it man.

    • Falk M.

      1 minute of coding and days of lawyer work.

      Could have been easily prevented, yet Google went the hard way. :/

  • Blahblahtldr

    Google is starting to be a shitstain on the internet.

    • http://twitter.com/jrgibson1 Jayar

      Starting? They were a shitstain years agin, but it’s only now that more and more people (read: influential organisations like governments) are realising JUST how much wrong Google are doing.

    • ExRoot

      But yet a billion people don’t blink twice when it comes to posting every facet of their life on Facebook.

      Hypocrites!

      • Falk M.

        I disagree.
        There is a fine difference between knowing exactly what you make public and deciding to do so and data mining people don’t consent to.

        In this particular case they do consent, so all there is to it is breaking the law of having a checkbox ticked by default, however, I guess you’re also implying data mining in general.
        Correct me if I’m wrong.

        Regardless, can’t be a hypocrite about publishing stuff freely and complaining you’re not always aware what other info about you gets stored and processed elsewhere.
        There is a massive difference, but thanks for trying really hard to keep the blindfold on.

      • ExRoot

        Big Facebook user huh?
        HaHa!

      • Falk M.

        Not really, but nice try.

        So in your world, you only defend what you yourself use?

      • ExRoot

        A solutely note. I am not a fan of Google! I don’t like being tracked. Google does it. Yahoo is doing it. I use the minimum. In addition I don’t use Facebook, linkedIn or any social apps. If I download an app that requires Facebook I delete it. So my blinders are not on. I defend none of the practices from any of them. And yes I will criticize those who comment here regarding privacy when they have every app on their device tied in with Facebook. FB is a hellhole IMO. Now…We are way hung the end if the Steelers game. Let’s both move on.

      • Falk M.

        If someone decides to hand over data, that’s their decision and should be respected.
        I agree they track way too much and I respect (and understand your reasons) you’re trying to steer clear from most of it, however you should try to discuss and not criticize by ridiculing. (your attempt at belittlement above)

        By saying “only defend what you yourself use” I didn’t imply you use either of the networks or whatever there is, it simply means there will always be people not agreeing to whatever you do.
        And that’s all there can possibly be: not agreeing with how people do their stuff, however, I think we can all agree there is a very fundamental difference between background tracking and actively posting things.
        I could say posting a picture of your crap after lunch is quite… invasive to your own privacy, however choosing to do so puts this on a much lower level than say, if someone else tracks my every move.
        Even though I consented, I might not be aware of the outcome.
        And sometimes you don’t even consent. (Hence social website plugins that automatically load are illegal in Germany. You have to use an enabler script around here to actually load those like buttons etc… Now of course this can only be enforced on German websites for German users, but I think that’s the way to go. And for anyone who got the message and knows about the tracking, they can simply tell a whole domain (one website) to simply always load the plugin. That way you know exactly which visits are being tracked. This should be a default across the board on the web imho.)

  • http://twitter.com/roycoto roy coto

    -.- i dont care take my info google your maps are free and great i paid with my data ;D

    • Falk M.

      I don’t care about them getting my info either, but I do care they break the law.

      And don’t be fooled, Google has enough lawyers to know what they are doing.
      Whatever they release probably gets screened long enough by lawyers they employ. If they don’t well, that’s a clear fuck up and they should be held responsible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mysto2k Manuel Andrade

    People use Google all the Time and yet because a simply checkbox is marked by Default they go apeshit because of Data Collecting. -.-

    • Falk M.

      So you suggest that breaking clearly defined laws is not bad in the light of many people handng the data over regardless?

      It might be a weird rule to you, at least in the EU we give two shits about privacy protection and consumer protection as opposed to the US where it’s all big data mining etc…

  • Evostance

    Funny. Its been checked as default in Android for as long as I can remember. As soon as it hits iOS everyone starts crying and moaning it breaches some European Law. 400 million Android users and not one of them cares.

    All a load of fuss over nothing simply because Apple don’t like Google.

    • Emre SUMENGEN

      LOL… It’s not because Apple doesn’t like Google. It’s because Apple is likely more under the spotlight, all the time.

      Remember Antenna-gate… I doubt there were no smartphones that had problems with their antenna design.

      Remember Mobile Me… I KNOW Google has lots (and LOTS) of offerings they killed in a blink.

      When something is about Apple, it gets attention.

      And, remember, this is an “iDEVICE” (thus APPLE) blog. Android blogs should be the ones that cover whether Android devices and software violate piracy or not.

      • Evostance

        My point was more towards that there are 400M Android users (more than iPhone) yet something like this as never been brought up in the past 3 years.

      • Tardroid

        there are more then 450million iOS devices in the wild.

      • Blahblahtldr

        Because android is a bloated malware infested peice of shit and nobody cares if there is one more app that steals userinfo.

      • Evostance

        Wow, you’re deluded. Good luck in life.

  • f96lrs

    u can turn it off in setting. data collection

    • Jose Gonzalez

      Where exactly is the option found?

      • f96lrs

        my profile click on little gear in right hand top corner about terms&privacy location data collection

  • Mohammad Ridwan

    The REAL reason for removing Google Maps & YouTube from iOS -> Android

  • Heine Kristensen

    Hey it’s “don’t be evil” they need your data to rule the world, some data privacy laws, who cares, we’re google give us your data

  • http://www.facebook.com/Jhonny1x Jonathan Jaimes

    I have a question what would happen when apple provents from jailbreak in the future what would be of apple?

    • Falk M.

      Legal-wise or userbase-wise?

      • http://www.facebook.com/Jhonny1x Jonathan Jaimes

        User base

      • Falk M.

        Small dent

      • http://www.facebook.com/Jhonny1x Jonathan Jaimes

        what about legal acting by apple?

      • Falk M.

        Legal acting by Apple? What do you mean?
        If you think they’d sue or threaten people for jailbreaking, that’s absolute rubbish.

        They’d rather have 100 iPhones sold out of which 10 are jailbroken than 90 without a jailbreak.
        Mind you, the 10% figure is quite old and I bet it’s quite a bit lower now.
        Either way, it’d generate too much of a PR backslash and their reasons for not supporting jailbreaking are not much of a legal issue I guess.

      • Falk M.

        Mind you: Not supporting and endorsing (or simplifying the process of) jailbreaking does not equal trying to punish people for doing that.

  • JaeM1llz

    If you install something and agree to the terms, then you have nothing to complain about.