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Sens. Markey, Blumenthal call for FTC investigation of Google geolocation practices

Senators from Connecticut and Massachusetts have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether or not Google, through its Android devices, has deceitfully gathered location data from device users.

The request from senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., stems from a news story in Quartz that posited that Android devices collect location data from nearby cell towers even when the location service is disabled, the device is powered off and even lacks a SIM card. In the wake of that article being published the Markey and Blumenthal wrote a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai “demanding answers,” Markey said in a statement.

Pichai's response did not satisfy either lawmaker.

“There has been a long established, bipartisan recognition that precise geolocation data is sensitive—raising expectations of user consent and notification. This means there should be clear opt-in consent to collect this information. Yet, Google's policies, documentation, and response letter raise questions about their characterization of basic consumer protection terms such as “opt-in”, “opt-out”, “notice”, “consent”, and “anonymization,” the letter to the FTC stated.

The senators were particularly peeved that Google describes its tracking as an opt-in feature when their own investigation found “the consent process frequently mischaracterizes the service and degrades the functionality of products in order to push users into providing permission.”

Google was contacted but has not yet replied to an SC Media request for a response.

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