The global pressure on Google over its privacy invasions has intensified, with US politicians attacking the tech titan’s continual collection of data even after users believed they had opted out.
“It’s like that old Eagles song, ‘You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave’,” Republican senator Josh Hawley told a senior Google executive during a judiciary committee hearing in Washington.
“You can hide a dead body in there and nobody would ever find it,” Republican senator John Kennedy said at the hearing.
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The hearing was looking at the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and California’s Consumer Privacy Act with a view to strengthening US laws amid growing concern about privacy scandals and data breaches.
It took place after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission had released new submissions to its digital platforms inquiry including one from US company Oracle which claimed Google was creating “shadow profiles” on millions of Australians, potentially in breach of the law.
The ACCC inquiry is attracting global attention because it is the first of its type in the world.
Oracle told the ACCC that Google knew where phone users lived and worked, even if they didn’t have a Google account, and that it knew where they were at any given time, even if they did have a Google account and weren’t signed in.
It was able to determine locations by secretly capturing how close an Android phone was to Wi-Fi base stations and at what time.
The Commission also released a submission from News Corp Australia — publisher of this masthead — which urged for Google to be broken up to foster competition.
News Corp is not alone in making that call.
US Democrat and 2020 presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren last week said if elected to the Oval Office she would seek to unwind anti-competitive takeovers including Google’s purchases of Waze, Nest and DoubleClick, along with Facebook’s buyouts of WhatsApp and Instagram.
“Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy,” the former Harvard law professor said. “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.”
At the judicial committee hearing, Google’s senior privacy counsel admitted it still collected data after a user thought they had opted out, but argued “location information is absolutely core to making a mobile phone work the way that you want it to work”.
Mr Hawley said: “I think when somebody turns off their user information, their location history, they expect their location tracking to be off, but it is not,” Hawley said. “In fact, they don’t have a way, apparently, to turn it off.”