Police apparently raided Google’s Korean offices in Seoul “on suspicion its mobile advertising unit AdMob had illegally collected location data without consent,” according to a Bloomberg report.
This is the most extreme action taken by any government in the growing controversy over smartphone location data — essentially criminalizing data collection. In the US Apple and Google have both been sued in private class actions and members of Congress are calling for testimony and investigations.
Latest Google Headache in Korea
The is merely the latest legal challenge for Google in South Korea. Previously the company was being investigated (and criminal charges were filed) over WiFi data collection via Street View. More recently, antitrust claims were filed against Google by NHN Corp. and Daum.
Reportedly 70 percent of Korean smartphones are running Android.
Location data is critical for the optimal functioning of smartphones and the delivery of services that consumers have come to rely upon, such as maps and navigation, local restaurant search and so on. The issue is not that the data are being collected but what happens to the data thereafter.
Companies Responding Reasonably
Clear disclosures and the ability to turn off location services are critical parts of the solution, yet both Apple and Google already employ one or both to varying degrees.
Apple and Google have both responded reasonably (although differently) to the location controversy. Apple has said it doesn’t track users (which is probably true in spirit) and is providing a software update to fix the “bug” that captures/stores location information. Google has said that all location services require an opt-in by users.
Lawmakers now need to put controls and remedies in place for the secondary misuse of location data by third parties. Companies and developers need to educate users about how their location information is used to clear up any consumer misconceptions and paranoia.
‘China Scenario’ the Real Worry
A truly worrisome scenario is one like in China where mobile phone location is being used to track citizens. The implied objective is to locate (and round up) political activists and otherwise quash dissent through intimidation. By contrast, in the US and the West more generally location data is used to deliver services and geo-relevant ads.
Most users would approve of those use cases with sufficient assurances that they aren’t being profiled by insurance carriers or tracked by police or other third parties based on their movements. These are the circumstances that in North America need to be addressed — not whether you receive the right local coupon at the right time.