back to article Google GPS grab felt like a feature, was actually a bug

Google has confirmed that its Play digital tat bazaar made a whole lot of unexpected attempts to locate users even after they opted-out of location services. But Google says the behaviour was a bug, not a feature. "Amanda", a Google Play community manager, posted the following in the forum that kicked off the furore: We …

  1. m0rt

    Face it, Citizen.

    You're pwned.

    Until you hit the off button, that is...and remove the battery...and always use cash. No, we won't be suspicious of you if you do this...how silly.

    1. Oengus

      remove the battery

      Rarely an option nowadays. Removable/replaceable batteries seem a thing of the past.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Planned obsolescence and forced upgrades march forward in lockstep,

        On, on, into the bright and glorious future.

      2. Dan Wilkie

        Pretty sure I could remove the battery from my iPhone - not so sure I could get it back in...

        1. wolfetone

          Just buy an older phone? Like a Nokia 3310? Actually most Nokia's up until Microsoft's takeover had removable batteries.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Batteries

        "Rarely an option nowadays. Removable/replaceable batteries seem a thing of the past."

        But not to LG, who seem to make them a positive feature right down to the little charger+battery accessory they supply.

      4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        The old tin box to the rescue

        Simples...

      5. Fungus Bob

        Re: Removable/replaceable batteries seem a thing of the past.

        Just make sure your phone is wearing the tinfoil hat instead of you.

    2. salamamba too
      Big Brother

      If you look closely, a number of modern phone batteries have built in RFID, for that always tracked feeling.

      1. no-one in particular

        > have built in RFID, for that always tracked feeling.

        Do you mean the NFC antenna that, e.g., Samsung put onto some of their batteries? The antenna that exists to let *you* use the NFC functionality (at your discretion)?

        http://www.snopes.com/samsung-microchip/

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Only criminals use cash

      The Canadian government position is, and has been for some time, that only criminals use cash. That is why they removed the $1000 bill from circulation and that is why depositing cash (even as little as a few thousand dollars) into a bank is consider suspicious, worthy of reporting, and opening a file on the cash user.

      We're more pwned than we can imagine.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Only criminals use cash

        Canada was just following the lead of the US. They pulled bills larger than $100 out of circulation like 50 years ago, and for a long time have been requiring banks to alerts to deposits of over $10K in cash. Since a lot of people were getting around that by depositing just under $10K, they now report on smaller amounts. I don't think it is set in stone but reportedly closer to $5000 now.

        1. Doctor Tarr

          Re: Only criminals use cash

          More and more countries are imposing maximum limits to any cash purchases, e.g. the French limit is €1,000. It won't be long until the UK follows suit.

          Who wants cash....the people.

          Who doesn't want cash.....the government, the banks, the acquirers, the security services, PSPs, etc..

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dear Google,

    You're not featuring me.

    You're bugging me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "You're bugging me."

      Non-native English speaker here, but isn't the word "buggering"?

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: "You're bugging me."

        Depends. IMO, both variants are valid in this case...

        As to the article: okay, I'll accept that this was a cockup. But that doesn't mean I trust them.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "You're bugging me."

          Attribution

  3. bazza Silver badge

    Hmm, except that it sounds like if location services is turned on then Play Services would log your position and pass it back to Google.

    Google need to know where people are to i) do location aware adverts ii) make the traffic overlay on Google Maps work. A pernicious Catch 22 for Android users; if they all turn off location services then traffic data on Google maps is not going to be useful.

    Once upon a time such perniciousness would be cause for government intervention and a forced company break up.

    Other companies do it differently. BlackBerry teamed up with TomTom, who get their traffic data from a variety of sources. They've a deal with Vodafone to get aggregated location data derived from base station tracking of mobiles, some TomToms have a 3g modem in them so can report home, and I think they also use companies like Traffic Master. Just as acquisitive? Maybe, but then TomToms don't show ads to you whilst your driving or once you've got there. Anyway, TomTom's traffic data seems to be much more dynamic than Googles.

    I'm slightly puzzled why Apple haven't bought TomTom. Apple's own mapping is slightly rubbish, TomTom have a lot of map data, an excellent and complete service and, these days, a pretty good range of hardware. Their maps aren't quite global (not Japan for example), but that could be fixed with some cash that Apple could throw in for the purpose.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm slightly puzzled why Apple haven't bought TomTom. Apple's own mapping is slightly rubbish,

      Probably wouldn't do much good, since TomTom provide the basic mapping data for Apple devices already. Apple sprinkle over their magic fairy dust combine this with data from other sources, to make their maps richer, and therein lies the problem.

      1. bazza Silver badge

        "Probably wouldn't do much good, since TomTom provide the basic mapping data for Apple devices already."

        Aha, now that I didn't know. I thought they'd gone to Open Street map, and erroneously assumed that'd gone no further. I wonder, did they buy data from TomTom after moving to Open Street Map? There was a time when iPhones didn't know where whole towns in Australia were.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          There was a time when iPhones Google didn't know where whole towns cities in Australia were.

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            There was a time when no-one outside Australia knew where Australia was!

            1. lglethal Silver badge
              Trollface

              There was a time when nobody knew Australia even existed!!!

              1. x 7

                I prefer not to admit the existence of a country that can produce something as vomit inducing as Fosters

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  I thought it was well established that most Australians themselves don't give a Castlemaine XXXX about Fosters' Amber Pi.. er, "Nectar" anyway, and that this was all just marketing towards gullible foreigners.

                  Doubt most of it is even brewed there anyway.

                  1. lglethal Silver badge
                    Thumb Down

                    Fosters - Australia's joke on the world...

                    Us drink it? Not on your life...

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                > There was a time when nobody knew Australia even existed!!!

                You're exaggerating. It's pretty famous for its classical music scene, and starting two world wars.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Syntax error

            @Doctor Syntax - I think you're confusing Google with Microsoft.

      2. jason 7

        Possibly because TomTom gets their mapping data from the late 19th Century.

    2. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

      tom tom used to sell users data to the cops years ago. don't know if they still do, I stopped using them.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        @cantankerous swineherd

        According to TomTom this is a myth and never happened...

    3. PaulR79

      @bazza "Just as acquisitive? Maybe, but then TomToms don't show ads to you whilst your driving or once you've got there."

      I would really like to see proof of this. I have never seen an ad when using Google Maps for navigation or at the end of the route. If you're just making stuff up then I'd ask, why? You only make your other points less valid.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Exactly...

        I'd like someone to explain how a TomTom device that has a GPS receiver can display Ads?

        One poster said that some TomToms have a 3g modem inside.

        Simple question then

        Who pays the 3G bill? I certainly don't and would never do so.

        And

        Why do I need to connect my TomTom to my PC in order to update the maps if it has 3g capabiity?

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Exactly...

          @steve,

          not every single tomtom has a 3g modem inside. Only the models featuring HD-live or HD-traffic have such a modem. And you paid for the data connection when you bought the thing. The rest of the upkeep is paid for by TomTom (since it's 2 way traffic and TomTom benefits from it I don't see why they shouldn't. Its only limited amounts of data so i'd be surprised if most Nav units featuring this send more than maybe a few hundred MB in their lifetime). I believe some of the units featuring live traffic updates also required quite a hefty monthly extortion payment membership fee to use it.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge
            Megaphone

            Re: Exactly...

            imanidiot yes.

            To get traffic reports I'd have to subscribe to a bundle of stuff I do not want, called "Live services" £50 a year for Europe. (Not just UK). Maybe useful if you're travelling around a lot. We're not. I'd happily pay £10, even £15.for just the UK traffic reports. But beyond that, year on year it's just not worth it to us, for the odd journey up the motorway.

            Quote;

            LIVE Services Europe

            Real-time services in one bundle

            Get there faster with TomTom Traffic

            Drive with the latest speed camera locations

            Know the weather ahead

  4. Spud
    FAIL

    Google also had a spokesperson point out to us that since Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) it has offered users "the ability to disable a specific application’s permission to obtain location, including Google Maps and Google Play."

    Doesn't work for Google Play Services .... I get prompted as such

    Attention - Google Play Services is a provider of location services for this device. Location access can be modified from location settings - Click ok / location services.

    Clicking location services shows location requests by google play services.

    So I click on Google Play Services and click permissions. Oh look ... Your Location is turned on.

    So I click to turn of location services and get prompted.

    Attention - Google Play Services is a provider of location services for this device. Location access can be modified from location settings - Click ok / location services.

    Hang on ... Didn't I just do that ? Google is sending me round in a circle here.

    So I call horseshit on their assertion you can disable a specific app permissions. Maybe works for non-Google apps but for their own app it's a fail.

    1. Paul Shirley

      Play is the store app.

      Play Services is a support framework, one job it does is mediating access to location to prevent multiple clients hammering the underlying GPS & Wi-Fi hardware. It's meant to reduce battery use. You really want a warning about disabling it.

      On Android they're both apps, someone thought they should both be in the app location permission list but took the trouble to add that warning and the confusing ok option. On my phone the location settings button takes me to location settings and happily let me disable them. Be more sensible to not list it with apps perhaps.

      1. anoco

        OK. I think you enlightened me and maybe a few others.

        Google Play Store ≠ Google Play Services

        I always wondered why the frickin store needed so much to work, and felt abused.

        Now, that I realize they are two separate programs I can accept the abuse a lot easier.

        IMO Google needs to change the name to just Google Services and people will give them a lot less crap.

        And since I'm giving Google free tips. How about the option to select which permission is OK with you during the installation process, and not afterwards once the permission has already been obtained? It seems like "we'll look for the thief after he gets in and kick him out", instead of stopping him at the door.

        Marshmallow is better than Lolipop, but it's still not good enough.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Think it through....

          The phrase "Google Play....(anything)" is just pure obfuscation and marketing crap. It means sod all while being frothy, reassuring and fun sounding.

      2. anoco

        OK. I think you enlightened me and maybe a few others.

        Google Play Store ≠ Google Play Services

        I always wondered why the frickin store needed so much to work, and felt abused.

        Now, that I realize they are two separate programs I can accept the abuse a lot easier.

        IMO Google needs to change the name to just Google Services and people will give them a lot less crap.

        And since I'm giving Google free tips. How about the option to select which permission is OK with you during the installation process, and not afterwards once the permission has already been obtained? It seems like "we'll look for the thief after he gets in and kick him out", instead of stopping him at the door.

        Marshmallow is better than Lolipop, but it's still not good enough.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So I call horseshit on their assertion you can disable a specific app permissions. Maybe works for non-Google apps but for their own app it's a fail.

      Given that the sole purpose of anything that Google does is to grab more data from people, preferably unnoticed, I would venture that is not a coincidence, nor surprising..

    3. Alumoi

      But GooglePlay Services is not an app, it's an essential part of the OS! You know, like IE is an essential part of the OS and you can't remove it.

      1. inmypjs Silver badge

        "But GooglePlay Services is not an app"

        It is an app. Permissions can be granted and it can be disabled.

        Disabling it will likely break a lot of other apps.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > Disabling it will likely break a lot of other apps.

          Not that I've seen. I don't have it (it's not installed at all) and the phone works just fine, including location stuff.

          For non-GPS location, I use one of the replacement frameworks available on F-Droid, which also have the advantage of being 100% off-line.

  5. lglethal Silver badge

    Netguard is your friend

    Having found that for the last 2 months, Play Store was chewing through my data in the background (without me doing anything, having all updates turned off, etc. it was still chewing between 10-100Mb per day!) I installed Netguard, had it block all attempts of Play Store and all the other Google apps to access the internet, my data usage has dropped massively. My phone is faster and all is happy with the world again... :P

    I wished I'd known about programs like Netguard months ago, could have saved myself so many problems... And sorry if this sounds like an advertisement, its not! I'm not associated with Netguard in any way shape or form, just happy that it saved me so much and know blocks any attempt from Google to get access to my data! :)

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Netguard is your friend

      Shhh! Google will banish it as an inappropriate application if they get to hear of this...

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: Netguard is your friend

        "Shhh! Google will banish it as an inappropriate application if they get to hear of this..."

        There's always F-droid: https://f-droid.org/repository/browse/?fdid=eu.faircode.netguard

  6. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    it's certainly not a new thing.

    At least I suspect as much since I've had a couple of Xperia phones start to really chew through the battery and labeling play services as the culprit every time (this was when using songs stamina mode which kills net and GPS when the screens off). They always came back saying they're aware but needed Google to fix it.

  7. Adam 52 Silver badge

    "The Reg understands that Google accepts..."

    Why is this bit worded in the same style as a lawyer answering a claim? Has El Reg been ordered to print a correction or is this just copied from a Google statement written by their legal team?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re. the Reg understands

      methinks it's sceptic sarcasm, often used by newsspeak to mean: we've been told, but don't believe a word of it, or have strong doubts, at least. But can't say that openly, because we can't afford the best lawyers on the planet, as they already work for one well-known worldwide corp, nudge nudge, wink wink, know what I'm saying...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "because we can't afford the best lawyers on the planet, as they already work for one well-known worldwide corp, nudge nudge, wink wink, know what I'm saying..."

        Well, not Apple because they lose cases, so I presume you mean Oracle.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "Why is this bit worded in the same style as a lawyer answering a claim?"

      I suppose they were both statements that Google made to the Register but el Reg couldn't, of course, verify them for themselves. Alternative wording might have been "Google told us..." but it's a reasonable way to say that.

      1. Paul Shirley

        When even slightly contradicting the editor's obsessive ranting and raving it's probably wise to choose words carefully ;)

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Accidental gathering of data? Sounds familiar. Ah, yes, I remember. Streetview, email and passwords.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    behaviour was a bug, not a feature

    I belive them! Like when they said it was a bug they slurped e-mail addresses and passwords while driving by to give us their wonderful FREE streetview. I believe them, because, like, they're a big corp, and those corpses never lie, do they. And they do no evil and stuff. How can you NOT believe them?!

    p.s. I also believe the goverment, the banks, the lawyers, and ads. Especially ads. Those suspicious, questioning, unbelieving individuals are of a warped mind and should be eliminated from our sunlit yard.

    1. Test Man

      Re: behaviour was a bug, not a feature

      They didn't slurp e-mail addresses and passwords, they slurped data which could contain anything - on an encrypted network it'd just be encrypted data, but on an OPEN network it would be plain text so literally anything that was transmitted by whatever device is using that network.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: behaviour was a bug, not a feature

        as I remember at that time, according to google's own investigation, it was a rogue engineer, who did that. Then, with VW emissions recently, it was a couple of rogue engineers. You start to wonder, how many rogue engineers in the MOD there are to bypass the usual "red button" sequence.

        And don't start me on the rogue traders...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: behaviour was a bug, not a feature

          "rogue engineers" suggests a company's run by clueless idiots or lying c***s.

          Well, there's the third option, i.e. "nobody's perfect", but...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: lying c***s

            Are they cocks or cunts? We need to know!

            1. Doctor Tarr

              Re: lying c***s

              Either way I suspect that they are not engineers.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: behaviour was a bug, not a feature

          > according to google's own investigation, it was a rogue engineer, who did that. Then, with VW emissions recently, it was a couple of rogue engineers.

          First as an employee, latter on as a consultant, and nowadays as a business owner, I always refused to do anything of questionable ethics or lawfulness. Mostly out of an utopian sense of idealism, but there was always also a part of me saying "Going under the bus for this lot? No, thank you".

  10. Terry 6 Silver badge

    If you really want to see companies buying each other...

    How about if Google were to buy Mattell?

    (See earlier article).

  11. EddieD

    "We will be rolling out a fix in the next few days..."

    ...after we have amassed a nice little database of all your movements, your commuting choices and destinations, or, alternatively, identified you as a recidivist...which is a useful datapoint in its own right.

  12. JoshOvki

    I found the bug!

    "no location data reached Play services" it wasn't that it was requesting the location that was the bug, it was that it never got back to google!

  13. Mage Silver badge
    Devil

    We identified a bug affecting a small number of users

    They would say that. They claimed their deliberate WiFi slurp while making Street view was a mistake too (that's replaced by Android, Chrome Browser, (and even Google Analytics Etc), ChromeOS.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: We identified a bug affecting a small number of users

      Yes, it's always "a small number" isn't it? Even if it's a corp's entire user base of over a billion, it's still "a small number" compared to astronomical terms, isn't it?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We identified a bug affecting a small number of users

      > We identified a bug affecting a small number of users

      Yeah, that's boilerplate. It just means they're not being honest.

      Honest companies will tell you exactly how many users, give you a forensic on the problem, tell you exactly how it came to happen, and exactly how they fixed it. All that written or at least endorsed by someone from management.

      I actually had this happen with one of my providers a few days ago. I trust them more now than before their fuck-up.

  14. AIBailey

    About time!

    I've been suffering with this for a couple of months now. On the link in the article, Google notice it's affecting some Huawei phones, including the G7 (which I have), Every other time it started, the phone would display a "searching for GPS" message, however never locked to a GPS signal and drained the battery much faster than usual.

    I understand people feel nervous about their movements being tracked, though the data collected by a community of Android users does have its uses:

    I assumed that the real-time(ish) traffic delays that show up on Maps if you're navigating are gathered from this kind of data slurp? By able to tell where all their phones are, and how quickly they're moving (compared to how quickly they should be moving), they can determine where delays are.

  15. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I wonder if Ubuntu Touch is ready for practical use.

    1. Tom Sparrow

      I wonder if Ubuntu touch will *ever* be ready for practical use.

      The post is required, and must contain letters.

  16. FuzzyWuzzys
    Facepalm

    Utter rubbish!

    The stench of Google PR bullshit about this issue is making me feel sick.

    1. Jeffrey Nonken

      Re: Utter rubbish!

      Nah, that's just the Foster's you're drinking.

  17. cd

    I'm running CM 7 on an Incredible (removable battery w/cheap replacements available, and builds up to 4.4 on XDA for the intrepid). Made the mistake of installing GAPPS but never let them update. I think it's appalling that they can't be uninstalled without mayhem.

    Play Services, on its own recog, updated sometime in the summer. I started getting failure notices about it. Ignoring them long enough, they went away on their own...hmmm.

    Yesterday, just to be tiresome, I tried using Titanium to first install an older version (also self-updated without asking) and then delete the current one. No more errors.

    Google are shooting themselves in the foot with me. Their crawlers/bots have no business in some of the directories they probe on my website, slowly the 66 ranges are getting blocked. For a while I blocked the whole range, and suddenly my site disappeared from search rankings.

    "That's a really nice website you have there, shame if no one could find it."

    Elect me and I'll install nice sturdy Puritan stocks in front of the White House. The 3 Google stooges will be the first booking.

  18. DCLXV

    Nothing new here.

    Google Services were always too chatty for comfort even prior to this bug, it has become rather rapist-like in behaviour, pretending to give the user an out but then perverting the definition of the word "no" to disregard user intent anyway.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wish my programming bugs were like Google's

    Seriously, these guys "accidentally" create a "bug" that scoops wifi data as the car roams, how the fuck do you accidentally do that?

    Sometimes I really .... I wish I knew how to "do hardware" better, I'd love to design something I can actually trust that works and isn't shit. The others like me would be like "Yeah that's a great idea!" and join in,

    (During this day-dream it seems evil me has created something that claims the user's password was wrong, so they cycle through their passwords and records them - Whoa! Maybe that's how!)

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