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Google, You Creepy Sonofabitch (bradfrost.com)
457 points by kawera on Jan 18, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 383 comments

I'm going to be completely honest here: If these things were behind a configuration option and defaulted to off, I'd have gone into my phone and turned that option on. I want to leave reviews for restaurants as I'm walking out of them - it serves the common good and doing it immediately is better for memory. I want to remember to download offline maps when I'm about to go somewhere where I won't have coverage. My memory is terrible enough that I can't do those things myself. Google obviously can't provide this service out of the goodness of its heart, of course it's going to have self-serving tweaks added on, but I consider those to be easily worth the value I get out of Google Prosthetic Associative Memory.

I can similarly say: If I could pay for the services of Google with money instead of with my data (which will be used in ways I cannot imagine or control), then I'd gladly do that.

Why? Well, the problem with Google is they have an incentive to do bad things to us, simply because we are not the real customer.

> Why? Well, the problem with Google is they have an incentive to do bad things to us, simply because we are not the real customer.

I am one of Google's real customers, I bought an expensive phone from them, but, to quote Josh Marshall:

> One thing I’ve observed with Google over the years is that it is institutionally so used to its ‘customers’ actually being its products that when it gets into businesses where it actually has customers it really has little sense of how to deal with them. (https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/a-serf-on-googles-farm)

Are you? Or did you just pay them peanuts for a tracking device that helps them make many times your peanuts with their real (real) customers?

I think that attitude is exactly what I was talking about.

I paid Google directly; I am their customer. But they don't know what to do with user-customers, so they treat me like the kind of user-product that they're more familiar with.

You are probably right, they are unfamiliar with retail trade (goods) which is why they make mistakes. I wanted to point out that you shouldn’t underestimate the amount of value you bring with your data. They need to keep the majority on board of their platform but not every person individually, and not on their devices, as they might not be in it for the device sales. Pixel can be a nice platform marketing tool and a data mining tool before being a device sales profit tool. That turns their users in second class citizens while they expect to be first class citizens.

Take with a grain of salt though. Pure speculations at best. Maybe they do just want device sales.

The Google Pixel 2 starts at $649. Pixel prices are comparable with iPhones.

I think the point being made is that a once-off amount for the hardware might be way less than what they get to make over those 2 years that you use the device (at least in aggregate as not everyone will buy a Pixel)

That may be true, but it's also forgetting the fact that the Pixel-owner is a customer, whose needs and wants the product should be catered to.

It's sort of like if Google sold a robot that happened to also steal money from your wallet. If they could get away with it, it'd be profitable for them, but there would still be something wrong with their behavior.

Exactly. But only in the case that the vendor already has the channels to turn user data into profit at the scale of Google. Very few other vendors could probably.

Mining your input and serving it to millions scales really well. As long as they can do enough to keep the majority of their users happy enough to continue using the product it is most likely more profitable to get the data than sell the devices given the market for android phones and the position they are in.

iPhones and Apple have demonstrated that privacy is a top concern for their users.

Google and their Pixel devices, not so much.

Google has much more to gain with mining your data as they have the channels to turn it into profit. Apple has a better chance making profit from their devices than their users data.

But is that a chicken or the egg? Apple never developed the channels because of their focus on privacy when they could have easily done so.

That was all under Jobs. How much longer will they keep that position?

> That was all under Jobs.

https://www.apple.com/privacy/ wasn't a URL until around 2010. Jobs died in 2011 and back then the page was just a Privacy Policy. Around 2014, they moved their privacy policy page and replaced it with a letter from Tim Cook which puts in writing that they don't monetize user data (if I remember correctly, this was in response to iCloud data breaches). In late 2017 they replaced it again with kind of a product page highlighting privacy.

Since Jobs has passed, they've move away from defaulting to a 4-digit code, encrypted phone backups in the cloud, moved from 2-step to 2-factor id, added a secure co-processor (with touch-id), made numerous moves to disable tracking cookies in their browser. From my observations about Apple, if they don't care about something it stagnates or goes away. All of those requires research, put more onus on the user, or cost Apple more per device.

Trust is a funny thing and I think it's much easier to lose than to gain. So they could move in another direction in the future, but so far it seems like they're continuing with a focus on user privacy.

Yes, but the comment you responded to was probably in reference to saying that Pixel devices don't cost much, not about the relative benefits of Apple phones.

You're equating different things

You paid real money for the hardware..

You have paid 0 for the use of Google's servers and their software. E.g. you enjoy their Maps app, you enjoy seeing real time traffic. You enjoy using Keep and let them host all your memos on it. You enjoy Photos and like that all your pics are in the 'cloud'. You enjoy......

You paid real money for the hardware yes, and it works with ur without your data. But another cost is your usage of their software...

Everyone does some type of calculus on this cost. I bought their hardware as well, and i don't sell my data to them.. at all.. However, I'm looked at by most of my friends and family as the eccentric privacy guy that runs tech stuff for them.

I run services mainly for myself, but many of my friends/family use them.. NextCloud for backups to a FreeNas and for sharing, ejabberd for chat, Piwigo for sharing photos &blog, davical for contacts and calendar, phabricator to share some of my programs, the all important email, and I've occasionally been conned into running a quake server.

I pay in time and convenience. I use and contribute to apps on Fdroid. I contribute when i can to the OSM project for mapping. I still have to use waze for traffic. And instead of having apps that siphon off my data, i simply go to their websites and check stuff (yelp and occasionally facebook), and yes, it's as painful as it sounds..

I know everyone can't do a lot of these, but a few services have popped up that do some of these for you for cheap, proton mail being the biggest (imo).. Running a mail server is the most challenging, in part because more and more people rely on the big providers for email, and in turn, those big providers are flagging lots if self hosted smaller email providers as spam. Outlook is really hard, i can even send email to an outlook account from a Comcast account and it gets flagged as spam..

So yes, unfortunately you aren't the customer, although you might feel differently and they've definitely marketed things in a misleading way. The truth of the matter is i highly doubt anyone reading this site wouldn't be able to do any of the above, and making it sound otherwise is folly. We all choose who and what to pay and what we pay with.

It's not even as much about privacy, as it is freedom. I was an avid google talk and google reader user, they walled off talk to hangouts and eliminated reader. Once you realize that it's better to have some self reliance rather than convenience, your world will change.

> You have paid 0 for the use of Google's servers and their software.

> unfortunately you aren't the customer, although you might feel differently and they've definitely marketed things in a misleading way.

That's a false distinction. I paid for the product, which includes the hardware and the software they decided to integrate. I'm their customer. However, Google will still try to trick me into shadow-working for them and give me no help when their system misbehaves, because they don't know how to deal with human user-customers.

Basically, not that "I'm not a customer" it's that Google treats its customers badly.

Actually, you didn't pay for the software. The open source parts of Android do not cost you anything, and the commercial components are free to use as long as you have a Google account.

With many of their services (Search in particular), the data is precisely what makes the service so good.

Fair point. If I could get this kind of thing as a paid service I do think that I'd happily pay for it.

There's an option to pay for GSuite, which gets you access to most Google products, but I'm not sure about it's privacy policies.

> My memory is terrible enough that I can't do those things myself.

One could argue that your memory is terrible because you know you can rely on those services.

Well, my memory is good enough to remember that in the pre-Google world I had no way to find out reviews of restaurants in a city I was visiting, let alone 'memorize' them.

Travel guides have been a thing for a very long time

But that's just another memory surrogate...

It's commonly quoted (probably inaccurately) that Einstein never bothered remembering his home phone number because it could easily be looked up in a phone book. The brain very regularly expands outside itself to think or remember, almost like subcontracting.

Smartphones have just made them a one-stop shop for all our external thinking now.

This reminds me uncomfortably of someone I saw yesterday arguing that you shouldn't get a flu shot because it makes your immune system lazy.

Memory is complicated and difficult. It can be trained, but we only have so much bandwidth for it. It's very nice to have automation to "remember" for us, so we can stop wasting that limited bandwidth on things that don't much matter, like details of our dinner experience, and save medium-term memory for more important stuff.

I can't get in the details because I'm no neurologist but there are a lot of news stories out there about how taxi drivers end up with a great memories from having to remember all the routes. There are also stories about how taxi drivers using GPS don't have all those memory improvements. I agree that news stories are not the best source of accurate scientific information so take it with a grain of salt.



> there are a lot of news stories out there about how taxi drivers end up with a great memories from having to remember all the routes

The question is, does that do them any good? It might help them in the rare case there's a problem with navigation data, but 99% of the time it's a wasted effort, and personally, I purposefully prefer taxis/transport services that use navigation.

My own opinion is that we should treat brain-memory as cache memory: store the things that are directly relevant to the important parts of our lives, to make ourselves better in those areas; otherwise, don't bother memorizing.

>The question is, does that do them any good? It might help them in the rare case there's a problem with navigation data, but 99% of the time it's a wasted effort

Yes, very much so. The road layout in London is absolutely insane, because the city was established in AD 43. Finding efficient routes requires a great deal of local knowledge and contextual understanding.

Black cab drivers are extremely good at minimaxing journey time. If they have a choice between a route that always takes 30 minutes or a route that sometimes takes 25 minutes and sometimes takes an hour, they'll usually choose the former.

They're required to memorise both routes and landmarks, so they're phenomenally good at fuzzy matching for destinations. If you ask to go to "that place where all the goths and weirdos hang out", they'll take you straight to Camden Lock. They have an uncanny knack for getting confused tourists back to their hotel, based on the scantest of descriptions in the most broken of English.

Uber has a role to play in London, but it's undoubtedly an inferior option. Black cab drivers are a part of the fabric of London and it'd be a tragedy if they were pushed out of business.


When I lived in London I once read a text from my wife to a black cab driver with instructions of where I was supposed to meet her for dinner.

Even though I didn't have the correct name of the street (and didn't have the name of the restaurant at all!), the driver got the right street and the right restaurant. (The street had probably 10+ restaurants on it.) I was astonished, and have never forgotten it.

Here in Sydney, Australia, the taxi drivers are generally hopeless and in many cases can hardly manage basic English, let alone navigate properly.

That's why I understand Uber has become popular but not all of my experiences with Uber have been so crash hot either.

> The question is, does that do them any good?

Anecdotally, I used to have a phone with a really bad battery that I couldn’t be bothered to replace, so I was constantly running out of charge. I started training myself to look up directions on google maps, then memorize the next 5-10 direction steps and compete with myself to make it to my destination with the fewest number of map checks.

I continue to do that, because it’s done a few things for me:

- it’s fun and I get personal gratification out of my improved sense of direction and orientation - driving/riding is much more engaging because I’m paying attention to my surroundings (looking for visual queues for my location) instead of just putting on music and turning on mental cruise control - I travel a lot and feel a lot safer when I have a mental backup of where I am, in case I run out of data or if I lose signal, which happens from time to time - I feel less attached to and reliant on my phone

To your point, it’s something I decided is worth my time and effort, if even just for the entertainment.

Depends on what you're memorizing, too. You can be good at remembering some things, but not others. Lots of fields have specialized training exercises for memorization - consider how you learn vocabulary in a new language, for example.

This can get tied to "muscle memory" as well. I'm currently going through a lot of this on guitar - two note per string pull-off exercises, in the interest of learning Eric Johnson style picking techniques. Much of the core of his playing is based on two notes per string, first the high note and then the low note. So deep muscle memory of that particular move helps me do other, larger things.

> things that don't much matter, like details of our dinner experience


Can you remember details of what you ate for dinner two weeks ago? Probably not. That's because it's not very important.

On the other hand, I can remember one meal I ate several years ago in great detail, because it had three of the best dishes of their type I've ever had (sashimi, pasta, and ice cream in one meal!). That meal mattered. But I'd have a hard time telling you what I ate last thursday.

Or maybe these services provide us augmented cognitive abilities beyond that of a disconnected human.

That is indeed the point of technology.

Personally, my only gripe is that those technologies tend to heavily depend on cloud and SaaS, which make you a slave of the whims of a third party, that is unreliable and often doesn't have your best interest in mind. Those same tools could be equally empowering without that dependency.

Sure. I'm all for the transhumanist aspect of this, letting the machines take care of everything they can so I can focus my intellect on the things that machines can't do, and I'll admit that (for example) I lean hard on Google when choosing whether to memorize a particular piece of information or to simply know that it exists and how it can be found. In this case, though, my parents figured out that I had an issue around the time I learned to read but I myself only recently realized I could talk to my doctor about it. There's a reason I choose to describe these systems as prostheses. And even if I do have a ton of practice exercising conscious control over my memory, I'd still really prefer to be spending those cognitive resources on things that aren't basic everyday tasks.

> There's a reason I choose to describe these systems as prostheses.

I choose to describe them as "external brain" ("exobrain" is the term of the art now?) - "prosthesis" feels like it implies there's something wrong with it, and that you use it only because you have no other choice.

On the one hand, that's how I feel about literally everything about myself. There is something wrong with my entire body. I do only use it because I have no better choice. To quote Eliezer Yudkowsky, "I'm sure Einstein was very smart for a human. I'm sure a General Systems Vehicle would think that was very cute of him." Like I said, I'm all aboard the transhumanism train.

On the other hand, you're right that most people don't have that intuition and that "prosthesis" may not be effective communication. This particular issue disadvantages me compared to other humans and solutions to it help me recover basic functionality, but you're right that this technology is good enough that a run-of-the-mill human can benefit from it too. They just don't benefit as much as I do. So, hm, maybe I should switch to augmentative language over assistive. I'll think about it.

I'm sorry, I didn't notice until you clarified that you suffer from actual memory issues; I assumed you were just using hyperbole as a rhetorical device. With the context clear, I see why you would want to refer to those tools as prostheses, given that they lift you to (and hopefully above) the "normal" values. And as you say, they indeed perform both augmentative and assistive functions.

Not a problem. You didn't dismiss it as "easily distracted" or try to condemn me for some kind of moral failure, which puts you ahead of quite a few of the users in this thread.

I'd be completely fine with all that even if it was turned on by default and if there was a simple off button. The point of the author of the article is that it is a permanent struggle with privacy settings. It's the same on Windows 10. There are like 30 registry entries one needs to change to turn off the spying, and they keep adding more. Like the author, this is a game I just have no appetite playing.

Meh. Open Google Maps (the app responsible for all of these notifications). Go to settings > notifications > your contributions. Turn off everything. Done. It's just one app being a bit too nosy. Nothing like the OS that tried to silently re-enable the privacy settings I turned off in an update.

The article seemed to mention that they took this step and the notifications seemed to migrate to google search. I dont use android and may have misunderstood but that behavior wouldnt surprise me and I suspect either way the information is being logged.

> it serves the common good

No, it serves Google.

> It serves Google and the common good.

There. Fixed it for you. You can’t deny the benefits it brings to the average person having all this information a (google) search away.

If phrased that way, we should probably celebrate it - it's increasingly uncommon for business interests to be even tangentially aligned with society's interests, even in small areas of the product/service.

I can deny that Google doing something that happens to serve its specific interests, and that Google may without gainsay or penalty discontinue doing at any instant it should so please, qualifies as a common good. I can deny that all day!

Okay I’ll bite. It serves the common good today, but if you intend to say it may turn out to make us live our lives based on something that can disappear any day and that would cause more harm than the benefits up to that point, then yes, this sentence is too long.

But I get all those same benefits simply from other people not carrying about their own privacy and security. I still keep location services, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc. off except when I'm using them in the moment and create a separate Google ID for each phone. My individual habits get lost in the noise.

First I was like "no, it does serve the common good". But on second thought: replay to 30 years ago, and there weren't really problems. Word-of-mouth combined with places closing because they were just too bad too survive worked fine. So maybe the common good doesn't need serving the Google way.. Possible real benefit is you can get super-detailed reviews from many different people. But I'm not sure there really is a need or market for that (well, except Google).

these days, i wonder if the dynamics of 'word of mouth' is still operationally the same. the internet is isolating and alienating in it's own way, so i'm uncertain how well the 'old ways' (circa all of ~20 years ago) still function.

If I'm visiting somewhere, I usually ask for recommendations from someone I trust (family, or whoever I'm staying with). Yelp reviews and such are good if I don't have any other source of information about the place, though.

And I completely understand, if it's opt-in. I might even do the same (or maybe just for a while). But soon as it's opt-out, it becomes creepy as hell and every time I get a message like this I resent Google a little bit more.

Similarly, recently I clicked to like a YouTube video while I wasn't logged in (I only ever log in to Google using a private tab since a few years because I'm just so fed up with the incessant nagging me to track and spy me).

So I forgot that I wasn't logged in and clicked the like/heart button. You know what it said to me?

"Sign in to make your opinion count."

Yeea, that wasn't accidentally worded badly. It's just too much of this shit every day all day, I no longer believe they actually meant to say "Sign in so that we can count your opinion". No, this passive-aggressive bullshit permeates every pop-up and nag screen Google ever communicates to me and the message is pretty clear. The subtext of my opinion being worthless unless I allow myself to be tracked.

Same passive-aggressive shit goes on in Google Maps. Of course I have Location History turned off. Don't want to be tracked? We won't remember your recent search queries either. Because obviously they can only do that in the cloud or something. I remember back in the day when search fields that would remember recent queries first appeared, we used to call that "intelligent". Yeah it's a bit of a low bar for intelligence, but guess what the world's leading AI company can't do it unless you allow them to track your physical location. Can't? More like "won't".

They want to sell me as data, but every step along the way, they try and make me feel like an insignificant little insect. It's not an actual transaction like "I give you data, you give me 'free' service", you can't negotiate really, and if you dare to even try they will basically bully you.

If, like some people try to argue, we are really "paying" for Google's services with our attention and/or private tracking data--it's more like emotional extortion / blackmail, than it's a business transaction.

And I tried to turn the creepy Google Maps prompts off but could not. Why should these be opt-out —- should others be tricked into sacrificing their privacy for your convenience?

I found them buried in some menus that I didn't see last time I tried to opt out. Settings->Notifications->Your Contributions. There were about a dozen things that I decided to turn off, in addition to my previous choices regarding deletion of my location history, home address, etc.

Neat, thanks. Wow, I didn’t think to look in “Notifications”—-was looking for things labeled “Location Settings” or things like that. “Your Contributions” is a very dystopian name :)

All those things can be done locally on the phone only and without any server-side data processing. Without investigating into Google/Android terms of use I can bet they are NOT done locally (I might be wrong, this is a guess).

Ultimately it’s the consumer’s choice whether you want to buy your personal mobile device from a company that makes+sells phones for a living or from a company the sells ads for a living (no bad feeling against ads) and also makes+sells phones on the side to augment those ads.

You can install 3rd party libre roms like Lineage OS which don't have any proprietary Google spyware on Androids.

> My memory is terrible enough that I can't do those things myself.

I get that all those services are helpful to someone who's easily distracted, but I'm afraid using them is the last thing that's going to help your memory. It just makes you more dependent.

Personally I prefer not to use Google's auto-complete, I can spell just fine thank you. We're bloody human beings, we're supposed to be like the smartest thing on this planet, don't we?

I misspell words in Google searches all the time. I can either take the 3-5 seconds to correct it myself, or just hit search knowing that the big G will know exactly what I meant anyway. I would say an aspect of being "smart" is not wasting time on unimportant details?

Yeah I don't get the problem.

I like to see other people's reviews so I like to provide some myself. Quid pro quo.

You can of course turn off this feature but then you're missing out on a lot of what Google can give you.

This is pure corporate propaganda.


Also, if they were behind a configuration option and defaulted to on, most people would be fine turning it off and forgetting about it.

This seems to be about lack of control. It's good for developers to think carefully before they ship products that do things with no way of being told not to.

EDIT: Welp. Apparently these settings exist.

I don't understand the point of the blog post then. Why is it so upsetting, if you have the ability to turn it off?

Maps app -> Settings -> Notifications -> Your Contributions (and uncheck boxes as desired).

The controls exist.

My guess is that doesn't turn off tracking but now you just won't be notified of it.

I admit though, as a user of the data, I find this very helpful. Google is absolutely brilliant at give real time traffic information to roads and businesses. You want to know if Costco is busy right now, they'll tell you. Accident getting there going to cost you 5 minutes, they'll tell you that too.

That's a separate option called location history. Alternatively you can turn off location in Android.

But does that mean Google stops collecting the data? Sure, no notifications, but will they still know what restaurant I just walked past?

As mentioned several times, disable Location History under Settings -> Google -> Location (on stock Google Androids you find that setting under Settings -> Location as well).

Yes; you can see the location history Google has been collecting at https://www.google.com/maps/timeline

But it's easy to stop collecting and/or delete location data; see https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3118687

Depends on whether you've opted into Location History or not, which is the master setting for most of Google's persistent location-based features. You can check the setting here: https://myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols

When you know you will need directions, you can also look them up on desktop using generic origin/destination cities and emailing them to yourself on a non-Gmail email account.

Both location history and the notifications can be easily turned off on Android and Maps app. What do you mean about lack of control?

It's "upsetting" (a strong word not used in the post) to new users because the default is "on" and that's the first impression they get when they turn the device on. Which is the sound of Google blowing it and sending people back to the Apple ecosystem, not necessarily the sound of someone crying.

> I don't understand the point of the blog post then. Why is it so upsetting, if you have the ability to turn it off?

I'm not sure the original author knows that they can be turned off.

... or perhaps (if I'm being less charitable) the original author doesn't care; they don't want to be asked in the first place, ever (and are a touch naive about exactly how it is Google Maps gets the data it can vend to end-users).

Default on is outrageous. It's clear the average person doesn't know how to access and manage even some of these settings, much less understand what they do or be able to understand what privacy violations will continue despite turning something off in one place.

You are explicitly asked about that feature when settinng up your phone for the first time.

Many non-technical types just have the store staffer walk through those steps, and others aren't likely to understand the implications of those settings.

They can hardly complain to Google when the device doesn't behave as desired then.

They should complain to the store staffer or make some effort to find out what those settings the are enabled actually do.

And that is why they default to on. If they defaulted to off, no one would turn it on, and they wouldn’t be able to hoover up the data.

Because if you turn it off in one place, it just starts happening in another:

Yah. I disabled Google Maps tracking, then Google Search started notifying me about places I was near.

It's not Google Maps that's doing the tracking. He turned off notifications in Google Maps, not location history, which does the actual tracking that other apps consume.

He agreed to location tracking when he first set up the phone because the first run setup explicitly asks whether he wants that on or off.

A harder, deeper question, is whether the average user is informed enough about "location history" to know whether they want that on or off, and whose responsibility it should be to inform them.

... as a wise man once observed, people talk a long game about how important their privacy is, but then empirically, researchers continue to discover you can get people to divulge a lot of personal information for a Snickers bar, if not less (survey-takers who just stand around in malls and ask people to fill out clipboards are an example of this---and while they are a dying breed, they're a dying breed because it's cheaper now to collect that information online, not because people have gotten cagier about divulging it).

Google are miles ahead of the other big players in terms of transparency and user control. They actively prompt users to review their privacy settings. They provide a plain-English guide to what data they collect and a simple process to choose your privacy settings.

I do find Google's level of data collection a bit creepy, but I also don't see how they could reduce the amount of data they collect without reducing the quality of their service.




  They actively prompt users to review their privacy settings.
And yet I've found with multiple Android updates on multiple devices, they can reset things like Location Services back to "On/Fine" and othere things like enable NFC without telling you that it's happened.

I believe that is the current state of affairs. Notifications can be suppressed in Android apps, right?

Yeah, but in this case that might also disable the notifications of Google Maps navigation. That's why I simply tolerated the occasional nag until today, when this panicky article prompted me to dig a little deeper. Took all of one minute to get rid of the location spam.

> I don't understand the point of the blog post then. Why is it so upsetting, if you have the ability to turn it off?

Because people like to complain. Especially when they're getting a free service (as in money).

This issue reminds me of a key permission iOS gives control over while Android (even post-Nougat) doesn't:

The distinction between allowing an app to use location while the app is open versus anytime.

Android makes no distinction between these two states, which opens up the ability for many apps (not just Google's) to enable automatic stalking mode. Take Yelp, for example. I do want it to be able to access my location so I can easily lookup restaurants nearby. However, on Android, once you give Yelp the location permission, it'll start popping up notifications about things near your current location, which is just creepy. On iOS, you can restrict it to only be able to see your location when using the app, which is what I want for most apps.

Yes! And the newest version of iOS grants you the ability to say "while using the app" for any app rather than just the apps where the developer gave the user that option.

And if an iOS app does request access to the user's location while in the background, it's required to have a specific explanation of why it needs that:


I really wish I didn't dislike apple and hate their UI and design

And Maps gets very annoying when I refuse to enable full location permissions for Google Play; the random prompts to enable it, hoping I would agree when not paying attention, are super sleazy. I uninstalled it last night after trialing a combination of HERE and OsmAnd. It is a lot more inconvenient but the idea of location tracking when the app in question is not in use is creepy and wasteful.

I assumed disallowing background activity in Android prevents this, does anyone know more about this?

Serious question for the HN community - why do you leave your GPS on/activated by default? I have mine disabled unless I specifically need it for something, which is rare. Usually the only time I ever need GPS is for driving instructions. Otherwise, it's off. GPS is also the biggest battery hog on the device. Why would you leave this on? Do you all use it far more frequently or was it something you never thought to shut off? I can't think of one app I use that requires my location other than weather, in which case I just set the location(s) I want and can refresh at any time. But I generally get weather from a saved DuckDuckGo search - "[zipcode] weather" - stored as a bookmark and problem solved.

On a related note, Google has created a tool that allows you to see all the data they have on you (and delete it if you want). Because of the way I set up everything and my habits, they had virtually nothing on me. The only stuff I think were some chats from years and years ago and a few searches I did while not in incognito mode on my phone. I also don't use any of their apps from their main product suite - no search, email, chat, drive, etc. And I never leave myself logged in to my account on anything. I don't think this reduces my productivity or quality of life at all. In fact, quality of life is almost certainly improved.

Hot location fixes are much faster than warm fixes, even with aGPS. Turning GPS off usually causes a substantial delay before you can start using a location-dependent app or feature, plus the manual effort of turning GPS back on. The delay is far greater if you're in an urban canyon with high levels of multipath interference.

For a suburban user that occasionally uses driving directions, this delay probably isn't an issue. For an urban user who is frequently using maps, location-based searches, ridesharing apps etc, it's a total dealbreaker. If I'm the kind of person who often says "OK Google, where's the nearest coffee shop?", I don't want to have to turn on GPS and wait for a location fix before I get a useful answer.

Good comment. Might be worth mentioning that turning GPS off reduces the accuracy of your location, but does not prevent it from being known: https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/21/16684818/google-location...

GPS is also the biggest battery hog on the device.

I'd be surprised that this is true. I used several battery monitor apps on several phones, and never found this to the case. It's a simple receiver, and doesn't require much power to do so. If you find a correspondence, it may be more likely that the power is actually being used by the apps that are using GPS, rather than the GPS itself: http://alienmantech.com/blog/android-disable-gps-save-batter...

Yes, you are correct - I am conflating the GPS hardware with the Google Maps app. As someone else mentioned, if you don't force-close the app after you're done using it, it continues to drain your battery very significantly.

>> GPS is also the biggest battery hog on the device.

Something is, but I find it very hard to believe it's the GPS itself. It's, after all, a completely passive system. What eats battery is transmissions and computation; with GPS, the first doesn't happen, and there isn't much of the second either.

I guess what happens is (on some phones; I've kept GPS always active on my Galaxy S4 and S7, and never noticed a difference) having GPS active makes various services run in your system, which may or may not be poorly written / poorly integrated with phone's power management.

On modern phones, you are unlikely to observe any power savings by turning off GPS or "location services".

The GPS is only going to use significant battery power when it is acquiring or actively calculating fixes. No device or OS vendor would ship software that burns the GPS at all times--your device's battery wouldn't last more than a few hours.

The grandparent is totally incorrect about the GPS being the biggest battery hog on the device. Not even close, unless you are, 24 hours a day, navigating or running some other application that requires continuous (1 second duty cycle) GPS fixes. Even then, your backlight is likely consuming an order of magnitude more power.

While GPS is not a huge power hog in comparison to other things on phones, the cost of listening on radio is not negligible, which is why most low-power radio protocols put a lot of emphasis on only listening in certain time windows.

I have noticed it on all my phones. On my Pixel 2 I usually get 2-3 days of battery life. But if I use maps and don't force close the app after I'm done my battery will barely last a day. So I'd call GPS (or more accurately the Maps app) my biggest battery hog, and by far.

Maps is a huge battery hog in Android. I've always attributed that to the GPS since I basically only use GPS for maps.

Geotagging of photos, reducing the time it takes to acquire your gps location when you need a map. These are reasonable reasons to have GPS running all the time. There are not reasons to upload these locations to a remote server outside of your control nor to log these locations on the device.

I leave it on because I don't care if the various systems I'm plugged into know where I am. On balance, I'd rather the infrastructure have less difficulty finding me if I crash my car in a ditch than be anonymous when I'm off doing my nobody-cares-what-I-am-doing. ;)

> GPS is also the biggest battery hog on the device

How do you measure this? At least on the android devices I've used I've never seen a line item in any metrics that shows GPS as a thing, at all, nor have I noticed any location based app being generally in the top 5.

For me the battery consumer is screen time.

As to why I leave it on, I like it - I like the hot notices about things in my area, and I use navigation quite a lot as Waze's traffic re-routing ability is useful to me.

It's amazing - people like different things!

On Android (recent versions anyway) GPS only turns on when an application requests it. I get a notification when GPS is activated, and it's quite rare. Basically only when I open my bus app, or open Google Maps. So there's no real battery usage there.

Most of the time it picks up my location from WiFi, which is a lot lower power.

If I was designing this feature, I'd use GPS in combination with the MAC address of the wireless AP in the restaurant; I wouldn't be surprised if this works with just WiFi enabled.

I also have WiFI disabled nearly 100% of the time. I use GPS far more often than I do WiFi.

I go out to client locations quite often and it provides a reasonably good means of time/location tracking when I do my billing reviews.

The idea that you'd have any location privacy while carrying around a cell phone is absurd. Both iPhone and Android devices record location history, and your network provider always has a rough guess of where you are. It may be annoying that Google is very persistent about trying to build its maps dataset, but the suggestion that it's not happening on other devices is crazy.

There's a huge and meaningful distinction about the technical ability to violate your privacy, and actually doing so, and trust (slash non-creepiness) is largely about not doing so when you could. For instance, the fact that my roommate can open my bedroom door at any time does not mean that I have no privacy when making phone calls in my room; it means that I have privacy because I trust my roommate not to do so, except perhaps in an emergency. A roommate who randomly opens my door and comments on my conversations would be a creepy roommate.

iPhone gives you lots of controls around location history, and certainly there is nothing in the iPhone ecosystem where they want you to contribute reviews or human analysis to help them with gathering data. I trust that these controls work. My cell phone provider knows where I am to route calls, but I trust that they aren't also keeping the data for fun / marketing / etc.

The suggestion that it couldn't happen on other devices is certainly at odds with technical capabilities; the suggestion that it isn't happening is a different one entirely, and is not crazy.

Your cell phone cannot function without actually knowing where you are (to some approximation) at all times. This information is known to the phone company, at the very least. The phone company almost always records and retains that information. Similarly, you cannot communicate to anyone on the internet without using an IP address, which your counterparty must know and nearly always retains.

Right, but "to some approximation" is very squishy for the phone company, whereas I got in my car today and the phone told me how long it would take to get to my shrink. It's fairly impressive they could be so tone deaf as to not see why people wouldn't be delighted with this kind of auto-discovery.

Well, it would certainly limit the uncertainty of your location from "anywhere on the planet" to "within a few hundred/thousand meters of this point"

I think that's what I said - I'm not sure if you're agreeing or disagreeing with me?

I am skeptical that your phone provider will hold the extensive information they have on your location in confidence. I'm even more skeptical that the recipients of your IP packets will also hold whatever location information they can infer in confidence.

Your cell phone cannot function without actually knowing where you are (to some approximation) at all times.

That's like saying a transistor radio needs to know where broadcast antennas are, which is obviously absurd.

Transistor radios are receivers only. Cell phones are transmitters that move between various fixed receiver cells. At the very least the phone company knows what cell any given phone is currently connected to. In practice they know the locations and signal strengths of all the cells in range of the phone, which allows triangulation to within a few dozen meters, at worst.

It's a cellular telephone -- they need to know all the cell towers near you and direct your phone between them. It's a rough area but my phone provider definitely knows I'm at work right now.

GP said, "cannot function." How did cellphones work before they came with GPS?

Your assumption is that GPS is required to know where you are. But each cell tower has a well known physical address and your phone connects to multiple towers making it trivial to triangulate your location. Much less exact than GPS and highly dependent on cell density, etc.


But even just the connection cell tower number is enough to determine whether or not you're at home or work.

They registered with the nearest cell towers, and ask them to watch signal strength so they can make handover work. This is coarse location information (since the company that runs the cell towers knows where their own cell towers, and uses your current tower registration to figure out which cell tower to send a call to), and can be made a little more fine-grained if you use signal strength from the various towers and triangulate. This does not involve the Global Positioning System or other satellite-based positioning systems at all.

If it does not do this, it is not a cellular phone. There are other types of portable phones that don't work this way, like cordless landline phones (the base doesn't know where it is, just that it's plugged into a phone jack) or satellite phones. But the "cellular" part refers specifically to dividing up the terrain into cells, finding which cell the phone is in, and assigning it to a tower based on that determination.

(This is all pretty irrelevant to the point I was making above that cellular network operators can easily choose not to use the location information or signal strength information for anything other than routing calls, and that deciding that they can just use the information however they want would be creepy.)

And that's fine, but none of this addresses the assertion that cellphones can't work without GPS tracking.

GPS tracking is a complete red herring; you're focusing on the wrong thing. No one ever claimed that GPS was necessary. Here's the statement that was made: "Your cell phone cannot function without actually knowing where you are (to some approximation)".

That "approximation" is: "Which cell towers can hear your phone transmit, and how strong is the signal?" Your cell phone would work just as well as a phone if you disabled the GPS chip, but your location can be estimated by triangulating from signal strength. It's not nearly as precise, or as accurate, as a GPS-provided location would be, of course.

No one ever claimed that GPS was necessary

The context of this thread is Android and Apple's tracking of location history and I'm just trying to stay on topic. Not without downvotes, natch.

This isn't Reddit, I'm not an idiot, and I know how cellphones work. Try to be more charitable.

> And that's fine, but none of this addresses the assertion that cellphones can't work without GPS tracking

Perhaps because that was never asserted.

> Your cell phone cannot function without actually knowing where you are (to some approximation) at all times.

Not GPS tracking. Simply tracking the fact that you transmitted a signal to a particular cell tower (the one nearby in radio terms) is sufficient to narrow your location considerably.

No such assertion was made.

> That's like saying a transistor radio needs to know where broadcast antennas are, which is obviously absurd.

Cellphones are called cell phones because they divide the world into location-based cells which determine which antenna your phone talks to. At the very least, the telephone company knows which cell you are located in to communicate with you.

What controls does an iPhone give me that I do not get on Android?

Google gives me a dashboard with everything laid out they track and not aware of anything like that from Apple?

I am probably unusual as love the data as need to refer to it to remember stuff for expense reports and such. We also have Google homes in our house and GW and I carry a pixel 2 XL and an iPhone but feel like Google is properly giving me a choice.

Btw, it is next to impossible to cancel our cable but Google procatively gives me a link to what they track and make it very easy to delete if I desire.

Why do you think whether your phone asks you if you want to send a restaurant review is in any way related to whether your phone provider is using your location data maliciously?

In fact if there's any relation wouldn't it be the reverse? If you're using the location data unethically, you wouldn't want to draw attention to the fact that it's being gathered.

I don't think that - the behavior I object to is not solely behavior that the provider thinks is malicious / unethical. The roommate in my example who barges in on my phone calls could believe they were genuinely contributing to whatever conversation I was having on the phone and helping me out, but they would still be creepy.

So I don't see this as about whether the provider has "good" or "bad" intentions; I see this as about whether the provider asks me for permission/consent before using my data. It's certainly theoretically possible that a provider is good at talking the talk and also being actively malicious, by asking for permission and then ignoring it or something, but that's not the problem I have or the article's author has with Google.

It does seem like that is the problem a lot of people have.

Google does explicitly ask you for permission to do this. And whenever someone in this thread points that out, someone replies with some variation of "yeah, but they probably do it anyway". Well...OK then I guess. There's not much of a conversation that can happen after that, but you do you.

I explicitly and repeatedly try to deny Google access to my location. I still get requests for reviews of places I've just visited, suggestions to make my photos public, notifications of the traffic on my way home, and so on.

My location history is blank, and set not to gather more data, but I still got those notifications, until I turned them off earlier today. I suspect that one of the times I turned on location, that it asked to also "activate Google Location Services to improve accuracy", or something.

> someone replies with some variation of "yeah, but they probably do it anyway".

My variation is "I've checked the 3 places I know to look, and I'll have to watch the New Features lists of future OS releases to find all of the things I'd like to opt out of."

> and certainly there is nothing in the iPhone ecosystem where they want you to contribute reviews or human analysis to help them with gathering data

... but as a result, they are, perhaps, unable to deliver the product Google can. Consider [https://www.justinobeirne.com/google-maps-moat; previously discussed in https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15965653]

... which is fine; Apple doesn't need to be in the business of providing the best mapping software available on a smartphone. But Google appears to be in that business.

I don't understand how "knowing" your location data is violating your privacy. If you visit an adult site, and the adult site "knows" you're on there, is that violating your privacy? Obviously not. What would be violating your privacy is if it publicly told everyone about that data.

Unless you can find concrete evidence that Google publicly and directly makes this data available to others, how is this a violating of your privacy? In using the device with the GPS enabled, you are agreeing that the device can know and use this data.

> In using the device with the GPS enabled, you are agreeing that the device can know and use this data.

Why am I agreeing to that? For what purposes can they use the data?

As in your example - it's not about whether they know the data, it's about what they do with the data and whether they have my permission to do things with it. It is obvious to me that a website has permission to send reply packets to my IP. It's somewhat obvious that it has permission to keep short-term logs for technical debugging, with strict access controls and audits (stricter if it's something like an adult site that would be embarrassing/sensitive if it leaked). It's definitely not obvious that they have permission to share the IP internally for the employees' amusement, even leaving aside external sharing.

It's the same with location services on my phone - it's obvious that if I have GPS on, and I open the map app of my choice, and it says "This app would like your location" and I say yes, I want that app to have my location. It's also obvious that I want the cell phone towers to be able to route calls to me. It's not obvious that I want the company that happens to write my phone's OS to use my data for marketing / profit purposes.

But it's not, though, at least not to this extent. I've never had my iPhone survey me about the world around me.

I suppose it's theoretically possible that an app like Yelp could do that, but iOS pops up a "Do you want to allow this app to track your location when you're not using it?" notification whenever an app wants to do so, and of course that's always an instant push of the "hell naw" button for me.

Google just can't seem to win with some people. Notifications like this have an obvious benefit, in that they make the degree of tracking that is happening very clear even to the non-technical end user (and if they aren't comfortable with the tradeoffs involved, they can disable it). But apparently simple acknowledgement of what the phone (any smartphone) already knows is "creepy", and it's more comforting to bury your head in the sand and pretend it isn't going on ("I'm going back to an iPhone"). Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

This whole post just gets sillier as it goes. It's dire and creepy and "robotic" for Google to acknowledge that your phone, the internet, and their business are machine-driven, and to be open + straightforward about the fact that said machines can make good use of your human judgement + opinion, for the benefit of other humans? They need to "soften this blow"? Really?

On iOS

Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services

Then turn off everything in the Product Improvement section, turn off Significant Locations and anything else in there you don't want.


Same thing on Android is under Settings -> Google -> Location -> Location History

This doesn't prevent your cell carrier from tracking you.

Sure you're still tracked, but at least Verizon isn't creepily reminding you of it.

The blog author freaked out because Google is trying to crowdsource info about a place from people who are actually visiting it, which they know because their phone has location tracking. I think the author might want to step back and think about everything his phone can do before getting worked up over this one minor aspect.

Your cell carrier can't deliver your calls if they don't track you somehow.

Dear Googles, stop asking


Privacy is the capacity to define, have respected and defend, boundaries on personal intrusions. Google and other surveillance capitalism companies expressly fail to allow such limits to be stated, and silently change settings, or subvert them.

Enough already.

The network provider records which antenna you trigger but has no need of recording your precise GPS location. Google has absolutely no good reason to record your GPS location without your consent other than for nosy purposes.

My understanding is that thanks to E911 your precise location is tracked, and that's the information that mobile phone network operators provide to law enforcement through their location portals:

... web portal that Sprint provides law enforcement to conduct automated “pings” to track users. Through the website, authorized agents can type in a mobile phone number and obtain global positioning system (GPS) coordinates of the phone.

From: https://www.wired.com/2009/12/gps-data/

Apparently, E911 is just the technology that delivers a location to the emergency call center. Collecting data about the actual location is just a range specification: https://www.fcc.gov/general/enhanced-9-1-1-wireless-services

They allow network-based location (like signal triangulation), where the location needs to be withing 100 meters for 67 percent of calls and 300 meters for 95 percent of the calls, and handset-based navigation (like GPS) where it has to be within 50 meters for 67% of calls, and within 150 meters for 90% of calls.

Within those guidelines, I think that the phone provider can propose methods to use and have them approved by the FCC. But I guess whether your "precise" location gets tracked depends on the level of precision you're thinking of.

I think that's just a misuse of GPS as a substitute term for 'high-precision' location, probably from cell tower data.

There is a common misconception that GPS is some sort of surveillance system that can return the position of a receiver.

My mobile carrier is a local server hoster that also happens to operate a fiber and DSL network in the city, and a small 3G network. They don’t track – I’ve talked with them, personally.

And in the future, with the Librem phones, we’ll also be able to ensure there is no tracking on the device side.

Hmm, they don't intentionally track or keep tracking data, but for cell phones to work the network _has_ to know what tower you are next to (or really what 'cell' you are in, why it's called a 'cellular phone'), to deliver a phone call or txt to you.

What happens if they get a law enforcement request with warrant/subpoena? I bet the data is there to be delivered. If they aren't _very_ intentional about scrubbing it, it's maybe there in some historical logs too.

I see a huge difference between "will violate my privacy if served with a valid subpoena" and "will violate my privacy to make money on a daily basis".

(And, for what it's worth, Apple has fought against a valid subpoena for iPhone data that they did technically have the capability of answering.)

true enough! Just good to know what data is where and accessible by whom.

I am pleased that the publicity (mainly from Snowden release) has led some businesses to fight subpoenas and/or warrants in court. I definitely don't count on them to keep doing it, pretty easy for them to silently comply (even _without_ a warrant/subpoena) without publicity, as most everyone has generally done until recently (and I suspect still does often).

Also, if you fight in court and lose in court, pretty sure any company will of course hand over the data at that point.

I mean, I'm also less worried about attacks by the government than attacks by private corporations. The government literally has a monopoly on violence. If they want me to have a bad day, I will have a bad day and there's nothing I can do about it. But there are lots of other threats worth protecting myself against.

a subpoena can of course from a private entity as part of a lawsuit.

> What happens if they get a law enforcement request with warrant/subpoena? I bet the data is there to be delivered. If they aren't _very_ intentional about scrubbing it, it's maybe there in some historical logs too.

Under current German and EU law, they can only keep logs as long as technically necessary. If a warrant, specific to me, personally, exists, they can collect future connection info. And I’m okay with that – requiring a warrant specifically to be written for me, specifically signed by a judge, and in a way that they can’t be rubberstamped is okay, and about the level of surveillance that is a reasonable tradeoff.

Have you ever actually audited exactly what logs your enterprise is keeping? Most people haven't.

The law notwithstanding, minimizing personally identifiable information in logs actually requires intentional and positive action (meaning additional hours/expense). If you just let all your systems produce what logs they do by default, get backed up if they happen to get backed up, etc. -- you will have quite a bit more logging bits sitting around than you probably realized or intended or needed. Is it more than is "technically necessary"? I am not sure what that phrase means legally or practically. But I doubt that law has actually resulted in companies spending significant additional staff time minimizing logs they didn't really mean to be keeping int the first place. It is not a trivial operation.

> But I doubt that law has actually resulted in companies spending significant additional staff time minimizing logs they didn't really mean to be keeping int the first place. It is not a trivial operation.

This is Germany – the place where the requirement for websites to contain a working contact address in the real world is enforced not through law, but through people just suing every website owner whose site doesn’t have an imprint.

The ISP is only keeping as much as absolutely necessary, because every bit more would be an unnecessary legal liability. Personal data is a liability, not an asset.

Of course, there’s also companies with different viewpoints, but this one doesn’t keep any more than absolutely necessary.

They do indeed keep tracking data, see my comment above: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16181406

Two things that happened to me:

A) I walk into a store, get a notification from google photos asking me "I see you're at store X, wouldn't you like to take some pictures?". Possibly to use as part of google maps. Thinking back I think this is when I started de-googlifying my life.

B) I get a notification from google maps asking me "you're travelling to place X soon, wouldn't you like to download an offline map, just in case you don't have connection there?" Google must have learned that because I had the plane ticket on gmail.

#1 is so obnoxious. No Google, I won't do free work for you. At least offer me some store credit.

If you sign up for the local guides program, there are some various minor benefits you get in return.

But besides that, I think the "payment" you get in return is the quality of Google Maps itself. Features like being able to tell when a restaurant is most busy can't realistically exist without automatically collecting data about users who are visiting it throughout the day.

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I find data collection of that sort -- where the data is directly being used to improve the product -- acceptable. What I find much more unacceptable is tracking for the purpose of showing ads. Although companies try to say they're "improving the experience" by showing targeted ads, I'd rather not constantly be bombarded with things that are engineered to extract as much of my attention as possible. (yes, I realize location tracking is used to target advertisement, which is why I keep location services enabled and block ads)

Disclaimer: I work for Google (but not on Maps)

I was taking photos of locations I visited. Google Explorer's program offered free 100GB of Google Drive space once you reached a certain level. About a month after I started they changed the promotion and took away the Drive space. So I deleted all my photos and stopped taking new ones.

Never work for free.

I've just been looking through the app, it doesn't really describe that well what the "points" system even earns you, for your contributions.

The help page has this vague statement saying "Those points lead to higher levels of the program, as well as benefits like early access to Google features and special perks from partners"

Obviously covering their backs because "special perks from partners" could mean anything

> So I deleted all my photos and stopped taking new ones.

When you're "deleting" things from services like Google Drive, it's better to think of what you're doing as "hiding things from yourself". It's unlikely that Google actually deleted that data in a way that prevents them from accessing it.

Do you pay for their service? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

They make money by showing me ads, so yes, I do. Just not in a direct monetary exchange.

I think they paid as much for google maps on their android phone as an iphone user pays for apple maps, right?

I look at the ads they serve me so yes I do pay for their services, just not directly.

I really don't see a use-case for A from the consumer perspective. Why would anyone ever want such a notification?

For case B we can see where scraping all this information can be genuinely useful.

> I really don't see a use-case for A from the consumer perspective. Why would anyone ever want such a notification?

Most people don't, but it's a game of numbers. If everyone gets the notification, then 0.01% start taking photos and populate Google Maps with the largest, live-est dataset of restaurant and business information in the world. Then all the consumers get access to this information in a nice format in their phone when it matters.

That's supposed to be the deal. Google is banking on this not being insanely annoying to most people, which, maybe is where they have miscalculated and made an error.

And, honestly, I'm not even sure they've miscalculated. It's bothered this one developer enough to write a blog post about it, and several other people on HN agree with that sentiment, but I think more data is needed before we reject a null hypothesis that the dominant user response is "Don't really care one way or the other."

Who knows what they're thinking. Might be just playing numbers. Or maybe they only show that notification after you've been at that store several times which means you must really like it, and they're hoping that you go "why yes google, I'd quite like some pictures of this store!". It was my local supermarket by the way.

And I started using Google's phones because I could see the potential for things like B. Hell yes, I want my phone to be aware of things in my email inbox. I want it to be more aware.

That's great. Different people want different things. My phone no longer does that :-)

Frankly Google needs to be broken up. They pulled the "we're a cool company doing ethical and interesting stuff" for far too long." They are too big to exist.

I wonder if Matt Cutts is still shilling for Google, talk about losing respect.

Check his G+: https://plus.google.com/+MattCutts

Matt Cutts has actually posted several times recently about things that irritate him about Google products. He still uses them though, of course.


Disregarding the privacy issues, I find this to also be insanely annoying. I want notifications to be important. Not a bunch of spam that ultimately equates to advertising.

You can turn off these notifications in the Maps app. It's annoying they're on by default though.

You shouldn't have to opt out of spam.

For most people it's not spam.

They're using it as a way of increasing their ad revenue by getting free data from their users. How is that not spam? If I send you unsolicited emails asking you to give me photos of products you use which I'll then sell ads for and keep all the revenue, would that not be spam?

I did not sign up for any product promotion notifications, so if I receive any it's spam.

They pay the user for it with increased Google Drive space, a free subscription to the NYT, etc.

Only if you sign up for Local Guides.

I did out of curiosity after I answered a few questions, and sincerely regretted it. The notifications and junk e-mail were never-ending until I blocked them all. And my time is not worth that little.

You don't have to subscribe to the emails to get the benefits. The notifications are the same as when you're not a local guide. I also signed up to get the benefits.

I'm pretty sure you do have to subscribe to the e-mails.

You may not have to stay subscribed, but that's true in a sense for most junk mail.

More like robbing people of their time.

If the user doesn't like it, she can turn it off. If the user likes it, she gets paid with free services. All other users get the benefit of free information about the business, whether they have location tracking on or not. I don't see the problem here.

Some Google products are stupidly designed, but this one looks like it's doing the right thing.

They're on by default because only one person in this debate has said that he/she would turn it on. Most of these features have to be shoved down our throat, because there's on incentive to turn them on.

When doing any kind of user behavior funnel testing, regardless of what the product and feature actually are, and largely regardless of how prominent you make the on/off switch, you find that the same tiny percentage of users that would turn it off is equal or greater to the percent of users who would turn it on. So if you want lots of users to use a given feature the only reasonable thing to do is turn it on by default and make it opt-out.

I've taken to immediately disabling an app's notifications entirely the first time they present this useless stuff, and nearly every app does it now. Does anyone actually WANT notifications like this?

How? Everyone says there is an option under "Notifications" but I only see "People & places" and "Ride services".

I have Maps version 9.69.1 running on Android 8.1. I see the following options in Maps' "Notifications" menu: Traffic, Commute, Transit, Navigation, Your contributions, People & places, Ride services, Offline maps, New on Maps.

From these, the "Your contributions" seems to have the majority of toggles that people are discussing in this thread (e.g. "Adding your photos", "Contribution ideas", "Questions about places", etc.).

I'm also on 9.69.1 but I think my problem is that I'm running Android 5.0.1... Not sure why the options would differ between OS versions though.

Thanks! I've been looking for this.

How is notification spam a "privacy issue"? Can we call this by what it is, a "notification issue"? Yes, you can turn it off, but by default, it's slightly too aggressive. If it could be a bit less spammy, I'm sure people wouldn't get frustrated and turn it off entirely.

The notifications directly rely on private information.

Growing pains on the way to a true digital personal assistant.

The industry has to figure out how to deal with privacy concerns, because a digital assistant which is continuously aware of your location and what you're doing will be tremendously useful. It's a little friend in your pocket that we won't be able to imagine living without.

Traffic jam ahead? Got you covered.

Can't remember someones name? I've got it here.

Need to remember the name of that great you discovered last time you were in this area? Got it here.

Looks like you need an ambulance.. it's on the way.

Privacy issues abound, but possibilities are endless and people _want_ these features. At present many of the benefits from a smart phone that we have become accustomed to are only possible because of data harvesting. Perhaps as hardware continues to evolve, and these features commoditized we can convince organizations that we will actually pay for the services if we can have greater control over our data.

Thanks for sharing your views on what is "creepy". Not everyone agrees (as can be seen from the comments) and I have a feeling that what feels creepy today will seem normal tomorrow, but your concerns are valid.

>It's a little friend in your pocket

No, it's not. Google is entirely incentivised to extract the maximum amount of value from those reliant on their services, and the level of dependence is proportional to how much much they can potentially make off you. This is how a company works, and this is fine, but it is very dangerous to imagine that Google has anyone's best-interest at heart except their own.

But it is symbiotic in some ways.

Ugh your response reminds me so much of Google PR speak at TGIFs and such that it's hard for me to believe you don't work for Google. This is exactly the picture Google PR has been trying to create for years - years, by now! - and all evidence suggests that

a) No, it's not what people want. It seems convenient in concept and even in practice, until the moment they encounter something that makes clear to them just how much a third-party companies knows (and can divulge) about their life, and they immediately start trying to turn this stuff off.

b) It's not what people need. The fact is most of these services are problems looking for solutions, and offer an overabundance of data for a user who simply does not need it and can't use it. Traffic jam ahead? Thanks for the heads up but not like I could modify my plans or route, so that's useless. Can't remember someone's name? What, am I going to take a picture of them and then whisper 'hey google who is that person' discretely into my phone? Need to remember the name of that great (elided) last time you were in the area? Chances are you could just look it up and in the process discover other interesting things - and I'm not even sure what you mean here, like, is Google going to show me a list of everyplace I went when I was there?

Why do you think so many so-called personal assistants just keep getting used for the same thing? How many things need to tell me the weather today, or traffic conditions?

c) These things don't work and what you're essentialy are advocating for is that we give up our privacy and personal data in exchange for broken systems (sorry, "growing pains" - nevermind Google's been pitching these things for years and they're still mostly used to set timers and answer silly trivia questions - poorly) that may someday offer something we don't need (see a and b). That's a garbage deal if ever I heard one.

I think you want people to want these features because they comport with your idea of the future. But the fact is reality is not playing out like that.

The real question is: is this creepy or ingenious?

The reality is that their products are the best because they are able to crowdsource the masses for practically free.

Google Maps- How do you think they are so good with traffic and or know when a place is busy? [Google admits it tracked user location data even when the setting was turned off](https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/21/16684818/google-location...)

Tensorflow- All those captchas you had to type and click? Yeah they were used to digitize books and build an amazing clean image dataset. [Google Inc. Acquires Carnegie Mellon Spin-off ReCAPTCHA Inc.](https://www.cs.cmu.edu/news/google-inc-acquires-carnegie-mel...) (https://techcrunch.com/2007/09/16/recaptcha-using-captchas-t...)

Some of it may be unethical, because they do not do a great job of explicitly stating what they do with your data, but some of it may be for the greater good.(intentions are not bad.) An example is traffic. I think in this case, I would like them to know so that they can warn/tell others, to save others time.

It is the wild wild west when it comes to data privacy laws in the U.S compared to the E.U, because there are none and (currently) it is easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.

reCAPTCHA is a freaking nightmare, it's gotten worse and worse, it often has me go through two or three pages worth of image recognition puzzles before letting me log in. And since it's used on non-Google sites, it's nearly unavoidable.

I got one the other day asking me to click on the “crosswalks”.

Seriously, Google, amongst the vast trove of information you hold on me/my IP address will be “in Britain”, so maybe try writing in British English rather than using a word that 90% of us won’t understand.

Yet the author attempts to shove google js down our throats.


... while complaining about Google being creepy, nonetheless.

So "Creepy, but not SO creepy that I won't trust them to vend code that I'll direct my readers' user agents to download", then. ;)

I think this is called "shadow work"...Google has turned you into a mechanical turk without pay :)

> I think this is called "shadow work"...Google has turned you into a mechanical turk without pay :)

That's an excellent term!

Also, I can't favorite this comment for some reason. The link is missing.

edit: I guess replying fixed it?

It's always surprising how much comments and postings in these parts are vehemently in opposition to data being usefully incorporated into these apps and services, I remember a recent post about how Google's passive on device music identification worked on the Pixel 2 which turned hostel.

I understand that certain types of people are attracted to certain topics but it's still somewhat jarring when in a technology discussion board there is this amount of anti tech sentiment.

This feature is useful, it puts that data gathered to a good use, and it's upfront about it, if you don't like it just swipe the notification away.

Don't be fooled, the iPhone is gathering the same type of data it just only snitches on non system apps doing so in the background. Not to mention that it looks like they don't put that data to good use which as far as I'm concerned is the greater sin.

I think the article primarily addresses the tone-deaf way in which Google addresses the user, not so much the practice of gathering data and providing useful suggestions to the user "like magic", which does indeed have it's benefits.

There's an implied deal that the user will provide their data to Google so they may profit from it, and in return they will provide you with a service free-of-charge. The article, and some anecdotes here in the comments, indicate that Google can be a little needy and tone-deaf in prompting the user to provide them with even MORE data, at times. Instead of passively collecting data, they appear to actively prompt the user to feed their machine, which is very annoying and creepy in the author's opinion.

I was responding more to the comments in this thread.

I've always found it kind of alarming in Waze that when you stop at an intersection where there's a gas station they prompt you to enter an updated gas price...even when the app presumes you are the driver.

I get that they're trying to get everyone to chip in for the common good but not while I'm literally driving, please.

I was using Google Maps the other day through Safari and got a pop up to download the app during the middle of the route and I could barely see the map. I nearly got in an accident trying to dismiss the pop up.

Yeah, Google could still be the cool company they were around 2000, if they just were not so greedy about collecting data for their Advertising business...

Another thing is that every time you start using an Android phone, all Google sync services are activated. So you have no chance to disable them until its too late and Google uploaded all your contacts into their cloud. That should be illegal.

I'm not sure why people think the data is being collected for advertising, as opposed to, say, improving the ground-truth on the Google Maps dataset.

I've contributed some images to the photo request. They end up appearing in Maps as the picture of the establishment.

Yeah, sure the pictures are for maps, but in the end Maps turned into a place where businesses have to be present as it is the de facto location based search engine. At the moment, I am not sure how they are making money with maps, but I find it a little odd that they keep asking to contribute pictures when it clearly shows that they are tracking every movement of you.

So something is wrong there (at the very least that they are tracking us all).

actually I'm pretty sure it in Europe it is illegal. thanks for pointing it out.

Wow, the author is surprised that when she/he shared her/his location with Google, Google actually got her/his location.

If only Google made it ridiculously easy to disable this. Oh, wait, it does:


If you have to stop and think about every bad consequence of any of your actions on your phone, then at some point the phone loses its usefulness, and becomes a nuisance.

The device should think for you, not against you.

This isn't even your phone, this is your Google Account. Isn't even limited to Android.

But yes, you should think of the consequences of signing up for a service that clearly states that it records your location history.

What are these "Google" notifications? Is that a "Google" app generating them? If so, can't it be disabled or uninstalled? I don't have this on my Android phone but I've uninstalled or disabled everything Google related. And if you don't want to be tracked, you can also switch off Location History.

If you try to disable many Google-provided apps on Android, you're presented with a scary-looking screen warning you about system instability, and it's legit. If I attempt to disable Chrome on my phone, for instance, it causes every single app on my phone to crash upon any interaction whatsoever, including third-party apps like Signal. Funny how Chrome is more inseparable from Android than Internet Explorer was from Windows.

I have Google Chrome turned off, and it works fine. I have Fennec, loaded via F-Droid as my browser. You have to have some browser, but it doesn't have to be Google Chrome.

One thing that seems to help is that, when I get a new phone, I turn all this stuff off before connecting to anything or even putting in a SIM card. So Google never gets a chance to control the phone's connections to the outside world.

Eh? I have Chrome disabled on several devices (Pixel, ASUS Zenpad, Nexus 7) and the OS works just fine. You need to have some default browser set to avoid apps crashing when they attempt to open links, but Firefox (or any other browser) will do.

To be fair I can't imagine anything more inseparable than IE and earlier versions of Windows (not sure about the latest ones, haven't used Windows in more than a decade). The HTML engine was literally part of the system in the form of various DLLs shared across pretty much all of Microsoft apps. You could theoretically remove the the browser app which was just a thin GUI, but all the security holes of the engine would still be there.

I have Location History on (it's complicated to justify it in my own head, but I find the feature useful, and it's not like my phone company and Google don't know my location - at least this way I get some benefit from it). I have basically every other "history" item disabled on my Google account. I constantly encounter new features that I'm interested in using, but for whatever reason they require me to enable App and Web Usage History (or something like that) for my Google account, so I decline, as I don't want to open that can of worms.

The specific feature in question here is part of Google Maps and can be disabled in the preferences pane of that app. For one of various reasons I could speculate this particular setting doesn't persist across devices, so if I get a new device (or, sometimes after an OS update) I will have to go back and disable it again. It makes me angry every time.

> but for whatever reason they require me to enable App and Web Usage History (or something like that) for my Google account, so I decline, as I don't want to open that can of worms.

Such as dictating new text messages in Android auto. Boggles my mind how they could legitimately need by web history for that, especially since replying to text messages works.

On newer Android versions, "essential" Google apps can not be disabled or uninstalled anymore.

As this was downvoted last time I made this statement, and claimed to be a lie, this time I took screenshots on a Nexus 5X running Android Oreo 8.1 official build, showing that this is the case: https://imgur.com/a/AVmLN

Google Maps can be disabled just fine, on 5X or new Pixel XLs running 8.1.

I don't get any of this on Android either, because I have almost all Google stuff turned off and replaced with F-Droid and open source. No Google Play Store, no Google Location Services, no Google Maps (ZaNavi instead), no Keep, no Photos, no Registration, no YouTube app. No Gmail (I use a Sonic.net IMAP server shared by all my computers, and K-9 mail), no Google account. Some of those apps bitch when you disable them that something will break, but all that breaks is Google intrusiveness.

Android without Google works quite well. Better than with Google.

Would question if works better. I am a pretty big fan of Google services but get people concerned about privacy but question if there is something that works better and has privacy.

I also look at it that rather my data be at just one company as much as possible and have chosen that company to be Google.

I just trust Google a lot more then say my cable provider to not sell my data to a third party. Fully aware Google is going to use to Target ads.

They're generated by the Maps app which is where you can then also see the result of that crowdsourcing.

You can disable them in Maps settings (or disable Maps app altogether).

This is Google Maps. The option to turn these notification types is under the Notification settings for Google Maps.

Hm. I find google map reviews fairly useful, and so don't mind contributing. I don't know why my phone figuring out if I'm near a restaurant I would like is creepy?

It's nowhere near as creepy as find my device, which everyone seems OK with.

You're probably not thinking adversarially. Most of us aren't. Most of us love all the features of technology.

However, there are bad apples in society, seeking shortcuts through taking from others and harming them. And there are guardians in society, constantly looking for vectors that a baddie can cause harm to protect them.

One emerging vector is the combination of market data to target individuals for threat and harm. E.g. you piss someone or a group off, whether by insulting them, simply the act of driving or eating meat, supporting a political party they don't, etc. Then, that person or group purchases batches of insufficiently anonymized marketing data, combines them to narrow down to your profile and uses it to hunt you down.

E.g. restaurants. Someone could buy location, restaurant and driving data, filter by several clues they discover about you, then stake out locations where you'll be.

Now that I've explored the personal-revenge factor, consider a different type of threat: economic survival. An adversarial corporation could use details about your psychology gleaned from timing information, nutrition profile, age, DNA/race, internet comments to influence you and larger groups in unethical ways, such as encouraging you to live unhealthy lifestyles, presenting carefully selected news items - not to harm you necessarily, but to perpetuate their own gain at your cost.

And this doesn't even have to happen to you personally. It can happen to targeted groups estimated to have vulnerabilities in any domain: middle-class, new home-owners, teen-agers. And the baddies' efforts all increase in efficacy the more information we leak.

So stop giving away all your information!

If one doesn't trust Google as a data steward, I can totally see one being deeply concerned about these data-request notifications and about the system knowing their geolocation.

... but I can't follow why one would then continue to use Google Maps.

... or a phone running an OS that Google writes and maintains.

... or, in the case of this particular blog-post, https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/webfont/1.6.26/webfont...

Hasn't Google been telling everyone for years that they want users to have information at their fingertips? They've built their platform around this. Google wants to do things like set a calendar reminder when it sees that you got emailed a receipt for plane tickets. When they see you just ate a restaurant they want to suggests things to do after (movie, play, concert, etc). They've been telling everyone this is what they want to do.

So, if someone is using Google products, why are they freaked out about this?

The way I see it is Google is offering a free and optional yet pre-installed service, namely Google maps, and is sometimes asking its users to contribute to its POI dataset. It'll be both good for Google and its users if the information about a restaurant is accurate or the gas prices for a gas station is up to date. The notifications could be sent way too often and I get that would be annoying but the whole concept isn't that bad.

This is a notification problem, not a privacy one. These people are just annoyed that the app is sending them too many notification, and are outraged at an entirely different thing. Google Maps' whole job is to know your location; it having the location data is as much of a privacy violating as a hospital having your heart rate.

> optional yet pre-installed service

Most of these apps are system and not-deletable unless you root your phone, there are maybe free but not optional for most of them...

It's time again to advertise microG - free software reimplementation of Google Play Services which allows one to somehow control their privacy without abstaining from most of the Android software out there that require Play Services. There are even constantly updated images of a preconfigured LineageOS fork - https://lineage.microg.org/

Google's creepy, but it seems the author should be savvy enough to know that Facebook does a lot more than what is implied here. Facebook goes after you all over the internet whether you have a Facebook account or not and won't let you delete the dossier they have on you. I don't see much of an ethical difference between the two companies; they are full of people chasing an ideal of success that is opposed to mine.

This creep factor was the main reason why I got another IPhone. As a developer I'd much prefer an Android (hating the Apple Store but thats another story), however as a user Android was a total no-go.

I was even daring enough to install the superb Google keyboard on the iPhone but only because they explicitly repeatedly say that they do not send my data home. if they ever do Google is dead!

Speaking of: Why does Siri (mother of all bitches) thinks she needs my GPS in order to tell me the weather??

Otherwise how the hell does Siri find out your accurate location to tell you weather. your IP address?


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