Google’s Web Mapping Can Track Your Phone

Information Gathering News / Stories Privacy Attacks

If you have Wi-Fi turned on, the previous whereabouts of your computer or mobile device may be visible on the Web for anyone to see.

Google publishes the estimated location of millions of iPhones, laptops, and other devices with Wi-Fi connections, a practice that represents the latest twist in a series of revelations this year about wireless devices and privacy, CNET has learned.

Android phones with location services enabled regularly beam the unique hardware IDs of nearby Wi-Fi devices back to Google, a similar practice followed by Microsoft, Apple, and Skyhook Wireless as part of each company’s effort to map the street addresses of access points and routers around the globe. That benefits users by helping their mobile devices determine locations faster than they could with GPS alone.

Only Google and Skyhook Wireless, however, make their location databases linking hardware IDs to street addresses publicly available on the Internet, which raises novel privacy concerns when the IDs they’re tracking are mobile. If someone knows your hardware ID, he may be able to find a physical address that the companies associate with you–even if you never intended it to become public.

Tests performed over the last week by CNET and security researcher Ashkan Soltani showed that approximately 10 percent of laptops and mobile phones using Wi-Fi appear to be listed by Google as corresponding to street addresses. Skyhook Wireless’ list of matches appears to be closer to 5 percent.

Source: CNET News