Google and Microsoft Tracking Your Location Too

Apple is taking the heat for tracking and logging the location of its users – but did you know that Google does the same thing with Android, as does Microsoft for Windows Phone 7?

According to security analyst Samy Kamkar, who tested an HTC phone, Android detects location every few seconds and transmits it to Google several times an hour attached to a unique phone ID. Besides just location, also logged and sent to Google are the name, location and signal strength of any nearby Wi-Fi networks.

Google does the same sort of Wi-Fi network location gathering on its Street View cars, and now it is using Android users to keep the mapping current.

The unique identifier, however, isn't there to track specific users, per se, but rather to ensure that the system knows to differentiate between a user returning to a location 15 times, or it's 15 new users.

Google gave the following response, as quoted by Gizmodo, "All location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user. We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user."

Microsoft also does similar sort of tracking on Windows Phone 7, but does not store any of this information beyond your single last known location. Microsoft has published a web page telling users of  "Location and my privacy" for users of its mobile OS. From its page:

How does Microsoft provide location services?

Unlike Apple's iOS 4, however, Android and Windows Phone 7 do not create and store the same kind of lengthy and historical database (consolidated.db) that can be read off of iPhone, iPad and iTunes to see where the Apple user has been.

Check out this chart from Gizmodo for an easy-to-digest summary of who is tracking you and why:

Marcus Yam is a technology evangelist for Intel Corporation, the latest in a long line of tech-focused roles spanning a more than 20-year career in the industry. As Executive Editor, News on Tom's Guide and Tom's Hardware, Marcus was responsible for shaping the sites' news output, and he also spent a period as Editor of Outdoors & Sports at Digital Trends.