Dec. 17, 2012 at 4:06 PM ET
The release of the highly anticipated Google Maps for iOS app brought a lot of praise for the Mountain View based software giant, but it also dredged up some old concerns. Why is it that "anonymous location data" is being collected by your mobile device and sent to Google again?
Marit Hansen, deputy privacy and information commissioner at the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, is a vocal source of the complaints. In an email to IDG News Service's Loek Essers, Hansen wrote that the new Google Maps app may violate European data protection laws because, upon install, users are presented with a pre-checked box acknowledging that they are willing to allow Google to collect and transmit anonymized location data. Unless they uncheck this box before hitting an "accept" button, users do indeed opt-in to this data collection process.
Hansen asserts that Google's definition of "anonymous" does not guarantee users complete anonymity. "All available information points to having linkable identifiers per user," Hansen wrote to Essers. "This is clearly not anonymous."
This is not the first time Google has been accused of breaching the European Union's privacy laws, which are stricter than those in the United States. Google has discontinued Street View in the EU because of restrictions, and was criticized for the accidental collection of European Wi-Fi data over a three-year period.
A Google spokesperson told NBC News that, when it comes to the Google Maps for iOS app, data "collection happens only with your permission and you can choose to turn it off any time in settings" and Google's support documents emphasize that the company does "not know who owns or is using [a] handset."
The new Google Maps for iOS app has been downloaded more than 10 million times in the first two days since its release, according to a Google+ post by Jeff Huber, Google's senior vice president of commerce and local.
Given all those downloads, one might guess that Google's got a lot of info from iPhone users. So what does it do with it this information?
According to a support document, you "help improve Google, including products and services like traffic, by allowing location data to be anonymously crowdsourced by Google’s location service from your device." In a nutshell, this is how that lovely traffic layer in Google Maps — marking roads red, yellow, or green depending on traffic conditions — is created.
Now, you might not be interested in lending Google hand in making this traffic layer more accurate, you might be worried about European laws, or you might have some sort of other reason to opt out of the location data collection. If that's the case, here's how to turn the process off:
Whew! Could that option have been buried any deeper, Google?
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