Google prohibits the sale of tools to track user location data
Google prohibits the sale of tools to track user location data

Google has banned SafeGraph, a company that sells Android users' location data for coronavirus mapping and other purposes.

This ban means that any app that uses SafeGraph must remove the location tracking code from its app.

SafeGraph sells its data to government agencies and various industries. But it also sells data to almost everyone on the open market.

This news indicates that the search giant continues to crack down on location data companies, which sometimes violate Google's guidelines by paying app developers to enter data collection codes and then selling the data they collect to companies or government agencies.

In December 2020, Google and Apple banned a similar service called X-Mode Social, which was said to have worked with the US military and other customers.

SafeGraph collects at least some location data by requiring app developers to include company code or SDKs in their own apps.

These apps then track the physical location of their users, and SafeGraph remembers those locations and then sells them to third parties.

Google confirmed that it told app developers in early June that they have 7 days to remove the SafeGraph SDK from their apps.

If not, these apps can be deleted from the Google Play Store itself.

In addition to their own data, SafeGraph provides customers with the option to purchase relevant data sets from other providers in order to enrich location information such as the name of the owner in the United States.

Google bans SafeGraph

SafeGraph data exceeds all security limits of anonymity. Researchers and journalists figured out how to identify a specific person in the location history.

Last year, The New York Times used SafeGraph data (and data from other location data brokers) to create a map showing where people are spending their time after the coronavirus lockdown was lifted.

The newspaper attempted to estimate the degree of overcrowding and danger in various restaurants, gyms and cafes.

SafeGraph is one of several companies that collect geolocation records through plug-ins in other Android apps and then make them available to organizations like the New York Times and Centers for Disease Control.

SafeGraph data is anonymous. But even apart from these protective measures, location data sets can often reveal detailed information about people.

Although users have to agree to the various application aggregation sites, many people do not know how their information will be used.

On its website, SafeGraph said: We believe that location data should be accessible to all. It is not clear if SafeGraph will continue to collect data from Android devices even after they are locked.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a similar company called X-Mode has come up with a solution to constantly collect location information from apps. Google blocked it after collecting information on the Muslim prayer app.

X-Mode provides personal app developers with their own tools to collect location data, which they then upload to X-Mode. This makes it difficult for research giants, researchers, journalists, or regulators to detect abuses.

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