Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Paranoid Not

Vergennes, VT

I'm a big privacy advocate.  I resent surveillance and intrusions on my privacy whether by government or by private companies.   Today however, I found a case over the paranoia limit.  I"m not at all concerned about the following.

If you go to https://maps.google.com/locationhistory/b/0, it will show you Google's records of your location history for today, or for dates in the past.  The map below shows where Google thought I was on July 1 of this year.





It is partially correct. We did sail from Burlington to Valcour Island on that day. Our average position was roughly in the middle of this map. However, we were nowhere near most of the places shown. Cell phone location by tower position, is highly inaccurate. Location by GPS is highly accurate.  But only two of the locations above place me accurately on Valcour Island.  The rest are contacts between my phone and some tower.  None of the locations above put me on the water.  The algorithm probably rejects all places that are not on land.

You have to opt in to location services on your phone before Google collects this data.  You (and I) probably did that the first time you used your new phone.  Google also has a dashboard showing you everything Google knows about you.  It also allows you to delete those histories, for specific dates or for all time.

The map above is useful to me for another purpose.  It lets me see where the cell towers are in the region I frequent.

 But only two of the locations above place me accurately on Valcour Island.  The rest are contacts between my phone and some tower.  None of the locations above put me on the water.  I wonder if the algorithm rejects any locations not on land.  I tested that hypothesis by looking back in June when we were sailing north.  See below.  Nope, my hypothesis was wrong.  It correctly located us out at sea.  Amazing.



Maybe I should increase my paranoia level.   p.s. I normally leave my phone turned off, or on airplane mode while out at sea.   It is a bit of a mystery how Google got those accurate location histories on that day.

2 comments:

  1. A valuable post, Dick! It is contributing to my awareness; changes nothing about what Google does but oh, how I appreciate knowing I can perhaps begin to quantify how much info they have gathered --and maintain!!-- re. past wanderings. Wow. I'd guess a large part of the population is entirely unaware of this trove of data Google gathers and maintains. Thank you. Chuck/PDX

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  2. Google probably downloaded your positions at sea from the NSA. They can track your phone, even when it is off...

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