Advice to Google: Stop invading wireless privacy with location history

Surprise! Google tracks your wireless location even when you turn it off. Want another surprise? Google is not alone. Many tech giants take your privacy without you knowing about it.

Over the last several years many have been warning about the invasion of privacy that some companies seem to do without notifying users. Just last week, we learned Google Location History on Android devices and on the iPhone app, track and store your location information. They do this even if you turn it off in settings. This gets many very angry. Users say, who does Google think they are?

In fact, Google is not alone, and invasion of privacy is not new. This is a wide-spread and growing problem on a wide variety of devices and services like smartphones, cars with navigation systems, AI devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo or Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, Samsung Bixby and almost anything connected to the Internet.

Advice for every company taking our privacy

A word of advice to every company that does the same thing. Stop invading privacy, especially without telling your customers. If you don’t, you will have to deal with a growing wave of negative PR and the next step will be the US Government stepping in. Both can be really costly to companies and both can be avoided if you do the right thing now. The least you can do is be open with the marketplace about this pressing issue.

While invading privacy is not breaking the law, it is breaking customer trust

While invading privacy is not breaking the law, it is breaking the trust customers give these companies. This issue is finally getting some attention. And once it’s on the radar, the intensity of user feedback will increase only increase until users are protected.

What will Apple do next? While Apple is not flawless, they have done a much better job protecting the privacy of users. So, how will Apple protect their iPhone users from this Google invasion of privacy? This will be interesting to watch and see next steps from Apple.

Understand, while there is nothing illegal with this invasion of privacy, that does not make it right. Especially when companies in this space have the chance, but most don’t warn their customers in big, bold terms.

This is playing with fire in terms of public relations and US Government stepping in.

If customers get ticked off, they may look for more secure products. And once the government gets on the case, the result is often devastating for companies. Consider Microsoft in the 1990’s. Do you understand the fire you are playing with?

Loss of privacy can be good in some cases

Not to say that this loss of privacy isn’t good in some cases. Of course, it is. Some services need to have access to your location data in order to work well. So, in the cases where user location is necessary, and as long as the company informs users, it may be OK.

Example, if you are driving and have an accident and drive off the road, you will be happy to be able to be located quickly. That’s an occasion where loss of privacy can be good.

However, the average user is living in la-la-land, still thinking they have privacy in their lives. The truth is, we lost our privacy a couple decades ago and it’s only getting worse year after year.

Two problems with Google invasion of privacy

Invasion of privacy is problem one. Problem two is the fact that companies don’t let users know this is happening. This is something that needs to be corrected. Maybe with all the attention on this topic, we can finally convince these leading companies to do the right thing.

Today, if you want to protect your privacy, you should get nowhere near your smartphone, your car, your Google Home or Amazon Alexa and so on. They listen to and hear everything.

In fact, many users complain that after they talk about something, suddenly that something pops up in their search engines as ads. Imagine that. Privacy? Poof. It’s gone.

Some users are OK with invasion of privacy, others are not

Remember, there are several different types of users. Some young users don’t seem to care about protecting their privacy, yet anyway. However, there are plenty of users who like what smartphones bring them, and all the other technology, but don’t like trading their privacy to use these features.

Therefore, there should be two versions of services where users can opt in or opt out of privacy invading settings. Let each user make up their own mind. That sounds fair, right?

The problem is, today there is no choice. Google should tell every user what they are trading away. While I like Google, they cross over the line between right and wrong, too often.

So, with the value in finding you in the event of an accident, the loss of privacy is not all bad. However, it is a trade-off. Something very few users understand. Something every user should understand and decide one way or the other.

Companies should inform every user. Period. That’s only fair to the user and to the company itself. If not, they will put themselves at risk.

Risk one, this will create a huge and lasting PR disaster. Risk two, the US Government may have to get involved. And that’s something every company wants to avoid. So, I hope you can see that doing the right thing is in everyone’s best interest. Now, we wait to see what moves the various companies make next.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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