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Android’s reliance on Wi-Fi locales raises more privacy questions

by Kristen Nicole

If you thought the matter of Google’s (GOOG) data collection methods would have blown over by now, you’re awfully mistaken. Rising consumer awareness around Google’s pin-pointing activity through Android Wi-Fi connection points has raised several questions around the company’s practice, even provoking a lawsuit from two Michiganders seeking $50 million in damages. Though Apple (AAPL) is also being scrutinized by worrisome consumers for its own data-collection methods, Google’s use of Wi-Fi, and the reasons behind it, have invigorated interest in Google’s opt-out alternative, as well as reintroducing the company’s ongoing issues with its Street Views initiative, which also collects Wi-Fi locales.

The importance of Wi-Fi revealed

The raging emotions of analysts and consumers gives cause to investigation, even outside the courtroom. PCWorld has unearthed a memo between Google product managers and now-CEO Larry Page, which was sent out last year after Motorola (MMI) chose a different location data service over Google’s default system. Its message emphasizes the importance of Android Wi-Fi tracking. "I cannot stress enough how important Google's Wi-Fi location database is to our Android and mobile product strategy," wrote Google location service product manager Steve Lee. "We absolutely do care about this (decision by Motorola) because we need Wi-Fi data collection in order to maintain and improve our wifi location service."

It seems Wi-Fi acess points will become a controversy yet, with tethering apps also incurring the wrath of wireless service providers like AT&T (T). With reports of wireless companies threatening users to switch data plans instead of tethering Internet access through their smartphones, some tethering apps are even being removed from the Android Market. But PdaNet has apparently responded in kind, enabling you to tether without revealing all the details to your service provider. PdaNet 3.0 for Android hides your activity from the likes of AT&T, making your data usage indistinguishable from data being transferred through your phone to your computer.