STATES' RIGHTS

The Connecticut attorney general is probing Google’s secret tracking of Android users

Connecticut attorney general George Jepsen is questioning Google about the company’s unauthorized tracking of Android users, his office told Quartz.

Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cell phone towers, and sending them back to parent company Google, even when phones don’t have a SIM card or their “location services” are disabled, Quartz reported on Nov. 21. The practice allowed the company to track where Android users were without their knowledge.

“I can confirm that Connecticut is looking into this, but we are unable to comment further at this time,” a spokesperson for Jepsen told Quartz. Jepsen has previously pushed Apple to vet their Apple Watch privacy protections with regulators and blasted Equifax for its data breach.

British and South Korean regulators are also questioning Google over the situation, CNN reported earlier.

Google never used or stored the information, a company spokesperson told Quartz earlier, and took steps to end the practice after being contacted by Quartz. Google had no immediate comment on the Connecticut probe.

Google could also be facing US federal probes as well over the practice.

A Federal Communications Commission spokesman told Quartz the situation was a “FTC issue,” referring to the Federal Trade Commission. A FTC spokeswoman said investigations were not public, and that the agency generally does not comment on them.

The FTC has been somewhat hobbled under the Trump administration, which is dismantling federal consumer protections, and currently has just two of five commissioners in place. Still, the FTC has recently brought privacy-related cases against Lenovo and made settlements with three companies that lied about participating in the EU-US Privacy Shield framework.

Other US states may look into the situation as well. Attorneys general are chief consumer protection officials of their state, and US consumers are concerned about data privacy, said Divonne Smoyer, a partner with Reed Smith who specializes in AG investigations. A spokesperson for Mississippi state attorney general Jim Hood, a dogged and frequent critic of Google, said she couldn’t comment on whether he was probing the unauthorized tracking.

Unlike in many other regulatory matters, “it’s not a partisan issue,” Smoyer said, and “Republicans are just active and concerned” as Democrats. While state AGs often work with the FTC on these issues, they don’t wait for the federal agency to act, Smoyer said.

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