LocationGate – Where in the World Was Waldo?

Just look at his iPhone data

Apparently I am not the only person troubled by the recent revelation that Google and Apple collect location data from smart phones.  Mike Elgan wrote a thoughtful piece for Computerworld. Who owns your location? – Computerworld

The idea of tracking files existing on phones and on the computers used to synch data raises eDiscovery issues as well as obvious privacy and data security concerns.  Will employers be tempted to look at the data collected by company issued phones to see if their sales team or delivery drivers were on task?  Employers defending discrimination cases are always on the lookout for employee misconduct that would justify termination of employment on non-discriminatory grounds.  Did she lie to the boss about that sick day as shown by the trip to the Foxwoods Casino? 

Warrantless Searches

A January 2011 decision by the California Supreme Court held that police may make a warrantless search of a person’s cell phone incident to a lawful arrest – in California.  In the opinion, the court considers and dismisses the privacy argument:

Regarding the quantitative analysis of defendant and the dissent, the salient point of the high court‟s decisions is that a “lawful custodial arrest justifies the infringement of any privacy interest the arrestee may have” in property immediately associated with his or her person at the time of arrest even if there is no reason to believe the property contains weapons or evidence (Robinson, supra, 414 U.S. at p. 235).

Although the phone at issue People v. Diaz was not an iPhone or Android phone, the court declined to make a distinction between dumb and smart cell phones:

. . . even were it true that the amount of personal information some cell phones can store “dwarfs that which can be carried on the person in a spatial container” — and, again, the record contains no evidence on this question — defendant and the dissent fail to explain why this circumstance would justify exempting all cell phones, including those with limited storage capacity, from the rule of Robinson, Edwards, and Chadwick.

With an Android or iPhone in California, once a person is arrested this location data becomes the functional equivalent of having worn a GPS ankle bracelet for the police. 

Follow the Money

The “LocationGate” controversy over the collection of GPS data by Apple and Google is about money as well as privacy.  Elgan’s article discusses the monetization of this very private data without anything approaching informed consent by the user. 

The controversy has already prompted a lawsuit against each company.  The Google suit is fantastically seeking $50 million in damages according to a CNET article. The Apple suit seeks class action status.

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