Well, after it was confirmed that a foursquare check-in at a small mountain coffee shop is what did in Osama bin Laden, everyone is fired up about location services. What? That’s not what happened? Hey, someone tweeted it so I figured it had to be true.
One thing for certain though is there is one company out there cares about everyone’s location and e-mails have been leaked to prove it. That’s none other than Google who along with Apple has recently come under fire about how they collect and handle user data from mobile devices.
Google Inc.’s collection of location information from millions of mobile devices and personal computers is “extremely valuable” to the company’s future business, according to an email written by a Google product manager last year.
That email and others, which are part of a public filing in a lawsuit against Google last year, shed new light on the company’s thinking about the need to gather location-related data. Such information is essential for a growing number of mobile applications and websites to function properly, the emails indicate. It is also useful for companies such as Google— whose Android software powers millions of phones—that want to offer consumers advertisements that are tailored to their locations, a new frontier for online ads.
No new news here but apparently this e-mail trail was sparked by the concerns of the then “just your average billionaire founder who would be CEO” Larry Page. He was more than a little concerned about Motorola’s initial decision to use a company other than Google to provide location services.
“I cannot stress enough how important Google’s Wi-Fi location database is to our Android and mobile-product strategy,” wrote Steve Lee, the Google product manager, in an email that emerged in a suit filed against Google by Skyhook Wireless Inc. in a Massachusetts court. The message was a response to an emailed question last May by Larry Page, who is now Google’s chief executive.
Mr. Page had asked why Motorola, a maker of smartphones, had decided to use location services provided by Skyhook, a Boston-based company that also has a database of location information, instead of Google’s. Motorola later decided to use Google’s location services.
The data collection concerns pointed at Apple and Google recently make this revelation a bit more interesting. Both companies must be very careful as to what is said about the who, what, where, why and when’s of data collection in the day and age government curiosity as to these activities.
Google is staying mum on anything, which is to be expected.
A Google spokesman declined comment on the emails. In a written statement last week, the company said that “all location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user” and that “we provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”
No matter how you slice this, Google is going to be in for a fight. If more information about the importance of location to Google is revealed that will only open the door to more scrutiny from Washington.
Ask the leaders of another organization what that kind of attention has gotten them.