Google bans location tracking tool selling Android users’ data

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Google has banned a location data app SafeGraph from its Play Store that allegedly sold Android smartphone users location data for Covid mapping and other purposes.

According to a report in Motherboard, SafeGraph whose investors include a former head of Saudi intelligence was one of several companies that collected geolocation records through plug-ins in other Android apps.

“SafeGraph markets its data to government entities and a wide range of industries, but it also sells the data on the open market to essentially anyone,” the report said on Thursday.

“The ban means that any apps working with SafeGraph had to remove the offending location gathering code from their apps,” it added.

SafeGraph was yet to respond to the ban from the Google Play Store.

According to the report, SafeGraph collected at least some of its location data by having app developers embed the company’s code, or software development kit (SDK), into their own apps.

“Those apps would then track the physical location of their users, which SafeGraph would repackage and then sell to other parties”.

Google reportedly told app developers in early June they had seven days to remove SafeGraph’s SDK from their apps.

SafeGraph also offers customers an opportunity to buy related data sets from other providers to enrich the location information.

“Last year, the New York Times used SafeGraph data (and data from other location data brokers) to create maps that showed where people were spending their time after coronavirus lockdowns were loosened,” the report mentioned.

SafeGraph’s users included the US CDC and at least one county health department, according to documents and online records reviewed by Motherboard.

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