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US Lawmakers to Question Google Over Tracking Database, Sensorvault

Top US Congress leaders from the Commerce committee sent a letter to Sundar Pichai the CEO of Google asking for data and raising concerns regarding the tracking database called Sensorvault. In the letter members of Congress which includes Chairman of the Committee Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat and Greg Walden a Republican asked for a briefing and answers to questions like Who can access Sensorvault data, how is the data shared, what controls the consumers have over the data, etc. The company is expected to clarify by May 7.

What is Sensorvault?

It is a database that stores location history and is available on Android phones by default and as an app in iPhones. The service is not by default enabled when you configure your new Android phone, but you would have turned it on when asked while configuring. If the location history is turned on Google can track your movements using the GPS available on the smartphone, and it becomes part of your online activity. Using this location information it can give better results and recommendations customized for the user.

US Congress leaders letter to Google

Google is facing inquiries regarding the tracking database, and the Congress has sent a letter in which it has asked a few questions which included

  • Does Google have any other database which collects location data?
  • Who can access the database?
  • What is the accuracy of the location information stored in the database?
  • What is the retention policy, does it share the data with third parties other than law enforcement agencies?.

The letter also said, “The potential ramifications for consumer privacy are far-reaching and concerning. We would like to know the purposes for which Google maintains the Sensorvault database and the extent to which Google shares precise location information from this database with third parties.”

In response to the letter, a Google spokesperson said that the Location History feature is turned off by default and if enabled will allow people to view the location they have been to. He said, “If a user chooses to turn it on, we can provide helpful information like real-time data to help them beat traffic on their way home from work. They can delete their location history data or turn off the product entirely at any time.”

California has passed a bill with strict privacy laws, and the Congress has to take up the legislation. Many companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc. who collect user data to promote more targeted ads are likely to face more such inquiries in the near future.

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