Google customers whose mobile device Wi-Fi is on may have their previous whereabouts available for anyone to track on the Web.
Among Google’s practices is the publication of the probable location of millions of mobile devices that have active Wi-Fi connection. This is only the latest of a number of discoveries being made this year regarding the tracking and locating of mobile devices, and the associated privacy issues.
One example of this occurrence is with Android phones which have enabled location services. They regularly send location data stamped with the device’s unique ID through Wi-Fi to Google. A comparable behavior is also used by Apple, Microsoft, and Skyhook Wireless as these organizations seek to map out the worldwide addresses of routers and access points.
That said, the only companies participating in the publication on the Web for public availability of the location databases which connect street addresses to the unique hardware IDs are Google and Skyhook Wireless.
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The advantage to users is that it allows their mobile devices to discover their location more quickly and effectively than would be possible through the use of only GPS. The drawback is that there are a number of new privacy concerns as the behavior allows individuals to have their locations openly tracked.
All someone needs is the hardware ID for an individual’s mobile device, and they will be able to determine that individual’s estimated physical address, regardless of whether or not that individual wanted that information to be shared.
According to security researcher Ashkan Soltani, someone who has a very small amount of information about an individual can track that person down. “You can find where someone lived previously and where someone moved to.”