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Senators want FTC to investigate Google's location data collection

The company has already responded to 12 detailed questions about its policies.
Rob LeFebvre, @roblef
May 14, 2018
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Shutterstock / Lissandra Melo

In December of 2017, the office of US Senator Richard Blumenthal sent Google's CEO a letter asking for a detailed explanation of the company's privacy practices around location services. Based on a report at Quartz, the senator's letter had 12 specific questions about how Google deals with location data. In January, Google responded to all of the issues in a lengthy letter signed by Google's VP of public policy, Susan Molinari. Now, apparently unsatisfied with the response, Senators Blumenthal and Edward J. Markey have sent a written request to the FTC to investigate Google's location services, along with "any deceptive acts and practices associated with the product."

While Google's initial response refuted many of the claims made by Quartz, and explained again and again how Google and Android handles sensitive location data, the letter to the FTC again uses the report as its main basis. The crux of the new letter appears to be this: "Google has an intimate understanding or personal lives as they watch their users seek the support of reproductive health services, engage in civic activities or attend places of religious worship," wrote the senators. All it takes to expose users to data collection, say the letter's authors, is to allow an "ambiguously described feature" once and then it is silently enabled across all signed-in devices without an expiration date.

Whether the FTC will take up the investigation or not is up to the Commission and its chair, Joseph Simons, of course. Many of the questions posed by the senators have already been answered, however, and the FTC may understand more about the technical answers than the senators do.

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