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Google caught hiding location settings in Android

Android 12 release date, beta and features
(Image credit: Photo Illustration by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Documents from Arizona’s antitrust lawsuit against Google have been unredacted, and make awkward reading for the company. As spotted by Insider, the documents were uncensored by a judge following pressure from Digital Content Next and News Media Alliance and paint the picture of a company trying to prevent Android users from enacting their right to privacy. 

Amongst other things, the documents reveal that Google would push third-party Android manufacturers to obscure settings “through active misrepresentations and/or concealment, or omission of facts,” and make popular privacy settings tricky to locate.

The documents note that when Google tested a version of Android with privacy settings front and center, the company found it to be a “problem” that too many users were taking advantage. As a result, the settings were buried deeper so only the determined could find them.

It’s not just users who were confused by the labyrinthian privacy menus, though. Jen Chai, a senior product manager for location services, wasn’t clear on how various privacy settings interacted with each other, and other employees were equally thrown. 

"So there is no way to give a third party app your location and not Google?" one employee is quoted as saying. "This doesn't sound like something we would want on the front page of the [New York Times]."

Another evidently found the company’s data hunger unsettling: "Fail #2: *I* should be able to get *my* location on *my* phone without sharing that information with Google,” the employee said. 

"This may be how Apple is eating our lunch," the employee added, stating it was "much more likely” to let users opt out of data sharing with the company.

The extent of Google’s knowledge about its Android userbase was revealed via Jack Menzel, a former vice president of Google Maps, who explained that the only way Google couldn’t figure out a user’s home and work locations would be if the app was intentionally fed dummy addresses.

All of this is interesting background for the upcoming release of Android 12, which will introduce a new Privacy Dashboard and the ability to make your location tracking a little more fuzzy to apps that request your position. 

If the unredacted statements are a fair reflection on the company culture, then it may be that the options are purely to counter the user protections introduced for iOS 14.5 rather than any deep commitment to privacy. 

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.