Google Maps for iPhone violates European data protection law, German watchdog says

The issue is that the option to share location data is on by default, says the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection Schleswig-Holstein

When users install Google Maps on their iPhone, the option to share location data with Google is switched on by default. By doing this, Google violates European data protection law, according to a German data protection watchdog.

Google Maps for iPhone appeared in the App Store on Wednesday and was welcomed by many after Apple stumbled with its own maps application. Google Maps quickly became the most popular free app in the App Store.

When the app is downloaded, Google prompts users to accept its terms of service and privacy policy in the startup screen. On the same screen, the Maps app warns users that they are about to share their location data with Google. "Help us improve Google, including traffic and other services. Anonymous location data will be collected by Google's location service and sent to Google, and may be stored on your device," Google tells users.

However, the option box next to the text is switched on by default, which isn't allowed by European data protection law, said Marit Hansen, deputy privacy and information commissioner at the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, in an email.

She said Google's definition of "anonymous" doesn't guarantee users complete anonymity. "All available information points to having linkable identifiers per user," which would allow Google to track several location entries, she said.

"This is clearly not anonymous," she said, adding that she had to assume that Google's "anonymous location data" is still "personal data" under European data protection law.

When a company wants to process personal data, users have to give informed consent instead of opting out, she said. "So I conclude that the current implementation is not compliant with current European data protection law, even if Google now offers an opt-out possibility," Hansen said.

In January, the Dutch Data Protection Authority (CBP) ruled that navigation service TomTom could only gather and process anonymous geolocation data it uses to map traffic after prior consent is given by the user, "because geolocation data are sensitive personal data." According to the CBP, TomTom could use the location data to deduce where someone supposedly lives.

"Such data are therefore to be regarded as personal data. When Google collects such data about routes traveled, it collects personal data for which consent must be obtained," Mark Jansen, a lawyer who specializes on IT issues, told IDG News Service partner Webwereld.

"The only basis for this processing seems to be consent. That means at a minimum that a pre-ticked box is not sufficient," he said.

This kind of data processing is also being discussed on a European level by the Article 29 Working Party, which is made up of data protection commissioners from each European Union member states, Hansen said. Her organization is part of the group, which she expects will discuss the issue further. She hopes that non-European users will also "question the behavior of companies that do not inform users properly and prefer opt-out over opt-in."

A Google spokesman could not immediately comment on Hansen's findings, but referred to a page where the company states that "Google does not know who you are when you use the My Location (beta) feature in Google Maps for mobile."

"The collection of location information is done only with the consent of users," the Google spokesman told Webwereld regarding the Dutch findings, adding that users can choose to switch this off at any time.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags securityprivacymobileGoogleApplelegaliosapplicationstelecommunicationMobile OSes

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Loek Essers

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?