New insights into Google's operations reveal that the company deliberately made it harder for smartphone users to keep their location data private. It even pushed phone makers like LG to hide such settings so users could not use them easily.
The information has been revealed through unredacted documents in a lawsuit against Google filed by the Arizona attorney general's office last year. The lawsuit accused Google of illegally collecting location data from smartphone users, even after they specifically opted out of sharing this data.
As per the documents, Google continued to collect the location data from users even when they turned off various location-sharing settings. The newly unsealed versions of the documents reveal that Google also tried to hide its techniques for this data collection, thus confusing even its employees.
Google senior product manager for location services Jen Chai, for instance, did not know how Google's complex network of privacy settings interacted with each other, as per the documents highlighted by Business Insider in a report.
The documents further revealed that the company collects this user location data from several sources, including WiFi and even third-party apps which are not affiliated with Google. It eventually is able to gather the location data from a user at all times, unless the person intentionally throws Google off the trail by setting up random home and work addresses, mentioned Jack Menzel, former vice president of product management at Google Maps.
The documents show that Google attempted to hide privacy settings on its Android operating system post-testing. The step was taken once Google saw that users were taking advantage of the easier to find privacy settings during testing, potentially harming its business.
Documents also reveal that Google tried to persuade smartphone makers to hide location settings deeper within their operating systems. Google employees had been aware of the developments all along.
The parts of the documents were revealed after an order by a judge last week in response to a request for the previously undisclosed information. The request argued that it was in the public's interest to know how Google collected location information from its users.
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