Note to IT: Google really wants its privacy settings left alone

The biggest difference in business models between mobile giants Google and Apple is that Apple sells hardware and software whereas Google sells information. So when Apple makes a big play out of protecting privacy—such as pushing back against encryption backdoors and government subpoenas—it’s relatively easy for them. That’s not primarily how they make money.

Google, though, has a business model that truly hates privacy. To Google, enterprise data privacy, along with consumer data privacy, is just something that deprives them of raw material that they can sell. In short, Google has to publicly say that it protects its customers’ privacy while privately doing whatever it can to keep leveraging that data.

Therefore, it’s deeply unsurprising that newly-released information from the Attorney General’s office for Arizona—released now that a judge has agreed to unseal some of the data—shows Google trying to hide privacy settings and also tracking users after they chose to not be tracked.

“Users are more likely to disable their device’s location setting if they are readily offered such a setting. This was demonstrated by a substantial increase in devices with location turned off in versions of Android that included a location toggle in the device’s easily accessed Quick Settings pane,” the Arizona AG’s filing said. “Google viewed the large increase as a problem to be solved, so it removed this setting from the Quick Settings pane of devices it manufactured, and it sought—successfully—to convince other manufacturers using Android to do the same on the basis of false and misleading information.”

The filing added: “Google infers a user’s extremely sensitive home and work locations without consent. Not only does Google still infer these locations when a user turns off Location History, but it also does so when a user turns off all of a device’s location-related settings. Jack Menzel, Google’s former Vice President of Product for Maps and current Vice President of Product for Ads, testified that the only way for Google to not infer a user’s home and work is for that user to ‘set home and work to arbitrary locations.'”

Some of this trickery is buried in non-intuitive settings for Google. For example, Google tells users that “you can turn your Android device’s location on or off using the device’s settings app.” The AG filing said that Google’s vagueness is deliberate.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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