Oracle is pushing a tech demo that, it says, reveals Google knows your every move, even if you've turned off your location history.
In an article published this morning, the Australian - with the assistance of Oracle - said it conducted tests that showed smartphones running Google's Android software (that is, almost every brand bar Apple).
It found the Androids "are tracking where users are, and sending that information to Google, even if location history settings are turned off and the incognito privacy feature is turned on".
The Oracle-Australian tests "included the interception of a secret stream of data from Android phones to Google, including location data, information about hundreds of Wi-Fi routers and mobile phone towers which users passed," the paper said.
Separately, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has filed Federal Court charges against Google, claiming that from at least January 2017 until late 2018, the company misled consumers by still tracking them when Location History was off - when in fact a second Web App/Activity setting also had to be disabled.
NZ Privacy Commissioner John Edwards told the Herald this morning, "I had a presentation from Oracle showing me their trial results a couple of years go in Washington DC. It really is quite extraordinary. I will be watching the ACCC investigation."
A spokeswoman for the ACCC said it expected its location settings case against Google, filed last October, to be heard by a Federal Court in late November, although the pandemic situation could mean delays.
Oracle, founded by billionaire and sometime America's Cup contender Larry Ellison, is in a long-running legal dispute with Google. It alleges the search giant stole some of the code used for Android. The spat is due to be heard by the US Supreme Court later this year.
"I don't think companies should be tracking people without their permission," Council For Civil Liberties chairman Thomas Beagle said.
"I support the idea embedded in New Zealand's Privacy Act that companies should only be collecting the minimum data needed to provide a service, and only keeping it for as long as it is needed to provide that service.
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"And forcing people to 'agree' to much more invasive terms to use the phone they just paid for seems a lot more like bullying than informed-consent."
In some cases, location data is needed to provide a service such as mapping or mobile phone service, Beagle said, "But that's not the same as giving permission for it to be stored and analysed. It would seem apparent that Google goes far beyond this in their effort to collect everything they can about people."
A Google spokeswoman told the Herald, "Geographic information helps us provide useful services when people interact with our products, like locally relevant search results and traffic predictions.
"There are a number of different ways that Google may use location: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location Services.
"Google's account controls give users the ability to control Google's collection and use of information about their location. People can disable Location History and Web & App Activity, and edit or delete the information, at any time."
Google also recently announced the extension of its anonymous "Incognito" mode from web browsing to other services including map directions.
And in June the company updated its policy around storing use data.
It now automatically and continuously deletes web and app activity and location history for new users after 18 months.
All action on the Western front
While our equivalent agency, the Commerce Commission, has no major action on the table against Google, the ACCC is taking action on at least three fronts.
On July 27, the Aussie watchdog filed a second Federal Court case, alleging Google misled consumers to obtain their consent to expand the scope of personal information that Google could collect and combine about consumers' internet activity on other sites.
And overnight, the ACCC accused Google of spreading "misinformation" in an open letter that implies a Morrison government move across the Tasman forcing the search giant to pay for news could mean the end to free Google services (just how much Google will have to pay for news, and to whom, is still being worked through in a thorny process being refereed by the ACCC).
The ACCC and the Commerce Commission largely each stick to their patch, but there is one cross-appointment (currently, for Australian government solicitor Sarah Court) who sits on the board of both regulators.
Earlier, the Commerce Commission said it was keeping a watching brief on the ACCC's various legal actions against Google.