Android Also Logs Location Data: Is It a Big Deal?
There’s been quite the hubbub this week over Apple’s habit of logging GPS location data in iOS 4.x, but is the acrimony warranted? As it turns out, an analysis of files stored on Android phones show that they’re all pretty much doing the same thing, too.
Without rehashing too much of the story, iOS devices like the iPhone have been saving records of where you’ve been and when, stored without obfuscation on the smartphone. While Apple may make it clear in the iPhone’s terms of service that it will gather location data on its users, having the information stored locally in this manner raises privacy concerns on the chance that your phone ends up lost, stolen, or otherwise falling into the wrong hands.
If you’ve got root access on an Android, in the directory /data/data/com.google.android.location/files there are files called cache.wifi and cache.cell, each with its own record of times, dates, and coordinates. These are also tied to network infrastructure, and ultimately let Google improve its database that let it use signal strength measurements to estimate location in the absence of a GPS signal.
Google’s storage of this data appears to have hard limits, storing 200 locations in cache.wifi and 50 in cache.cell. Old data is deleted in favor of new data, but in the absence of such updates, historical location data could end up sitting on your phone for some time.
From this, it’s clear that Apple shouldn’t be the only one privacy advocates are picking on. It would behoove both companies to possibly be a little more clear with how they’re handling your location data, give users the ability to clear the cache on-demand, and make sure that the data is appropriately secured.