Google beta-testing tracking mobile users everywhere they go--even when not using a Google app

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Google is attempting to deliver the ultimate prize to advertisers--a constant location tracking of mobile device users. Google appears to be touting this service only in regards to proving mobile ads work and to demonstrate a direct tie-in between Google searches and consumer purchases offline. But there is plenty of concern that Google will not stop there.

"If someone conducts a Google mobile search for 'screwdrivers,' for instance, a local hardware store could bid to have its store listing served to that user," writes John McDermott in his post in Digiday. "By pairing that person's location data with its database of store listings, Google can see if the person who saw that ad subsequently visited the store."

"Google's ability to make this connection is predicated on users opting in to location services on their smartphones and thus, in some cases, being subject to constant location monitoring."

How can Google get away with spying on everyone in the real world, you might ask? McDermott reports that Google declined to comment but…

"Dan Auerbach, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that users might not realize they've opted in to constant location tracking when they opt in to 'location services.' The disclosure mechanism for these apps are pretty weak,' he said. 'I think there's a gap between user expectations and what apps are really doing.'"

If you think refusing to use Android devices and using Apple instead will keep you safe from Google's tracking your every move, think again.

"It is easiest for Google to conduct this passive location tracking on Android users, since Google has embedded location tracking into the software," writes McDermott. "But Google can also constantly track the location of iPhone users by way of Google apps for iOS, Apple's mobile operating system."

When users stop using these apps, they continue to run in background and Google continues to track the user's location.

A Google blog post hints that Google will go further still: "Over time, we'll be adding other conversion types like phone calls and store visits as well as conversions from ads on our search and display network."

For now, users can protect themselves by putting their devices in airplane mode when not using the phone, by not using location services and by uninstalling apps. However, those protections may not be complete nor may some be available much longer.

As airlines accept in-flight use of devices, the airplane mode function will disappear on future phones effectively killing that line of defense. Uninstalling apps may or may not work as there is no way for the user to know if the app completely uninstalled, or if only portions of it did. And refusing location services does not necessarily counter any embedded location tracking.

Google is well aware that users' options for privacy are few and growing fewer. So why not spy on the masses when they can't do anything about it?

After all, "it's nothing personal, it's just business" as the old adage goes.

It's past time to show marketers that this is bad business and entirely personal.

For more:
- read the Digiday post
- read Google's blog post

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