Revised documents in a lawsuit against Google show that the company’s own executives and engineers knew how difficult it was for smartphone users to keep their location data private.
Laptop showing data stream in darkened room; Image by Markus Spiske, via Unsplash.com.
Google continued to collect location data, even as users turned off various location sharing settings, popular privacy settings were harder to find, and even pushed LG and other phone manufacturers to hide settings exactly because users liked them, the documents said.
Jack Menzel, a former vice president who oversaw Google Maps, admitted during a testimony that the only way for Google to be unable to figure out where a user lives and work is if that person deliberately throws Google off track by their home and work place set addresses as some other random places.
Jen Chai, a senior product manager at Google who is responsible for location services, according to the documents did not know how the complex web of privacy settings of the company interacts with each other.
Google and LG did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
The documents are part of a lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General last year against Google, in which the company was accused of illegally collecting location data from smartphone users even after opting out.
A judge last week ordered that new sections of the documents should not be redacted in response to a request from trading groups Digital Content Next and News Media Alliance, who argued that it was in the public interest to know and that Google did its legal means to suppress scrutiny of 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 and confused not only its users but its own employees as well.
Google uses various ways to collect location data from users, including WiFi and even third-party apps that aren’t connected to Google, according to the documents, and forces users to share their data in order to use these apps, or in some cases even connect their phones to WiFi.
“So there is no way to give your location to a third-party app and not to Google?” a staff member said according to the documents, adding, “That doesn’t sound like something we’re on the front page of [New York Times]. “
When Google tested versions of its Android operating system that made it easier to find privacy settings, users took advantage of what Google considered a “problem” according to the documents. Then, to solve this problem, Google tried to bury these settings deeper in the settings menu.
Google also tried to convince smartphone manufacturers to hide location settings “through active misrepresentation and / or obfuscation, suppression or omission of facts” – that is, data that Google had showing that users were using those settings – “about the.” [manufacturers’] Privacy concerns. “
Google employees seemed to realize that users were frustrated with the company’s aggressive data collection practices, which could potentially harm its business.
“Mistake # 2: * I * should be able to get * my * location on * my * phone without sharing that information with Google,” said one employee.
“This is how Apple may eat our lunch,” they added, saying that Apple is “much more likely” to allow users to use location-based apps and services on their phones without sharing the data with Apple.