Police recently raided Google's office in Seoul, South Korea on suspicion the company's mobile advertising unit, AdMob, had illegally collected location data without consent. Google has confirmed that the police visited its Seoul office and said it was cooperating with the investigation. "We suspect AdMob collected personal location information without consent or approval from the Korean Communication Commission," a South Korean police official told Reuters.
Seoul police also raided the offices of local portal Daum Communications over similar suspicions. Daum said location data collected by its mobile ad services was not illegal as it was anonymous and could not be used to track individuals, but Google did not say one way or the other. In South Korea, Google is one of smallest players when it comes to the search market, but it enjoys a near 20 percent share in the mobile Internet market, thanks to its Android platform.
In May 2010, Google acquired AdMob, a leading global mobile ad firm, for $750 million. Google executives have talked about the ability to target advertising to users based on location.
Location-based services benefit consumers by helping them find nearby points of interest with their smartphones. That being said, the technology could potentially violate consumer privacy by letting one or more companies collect location data. Such information is viewed as crucial for the growing mobile advertising sector because it helps customize online ads according to individual preferences and location.
Mobile has always been a concern of privacy advocates but as smartphone use continues to explode, the potential issues around current designs and practices are becoming more apparent. Smartphones are essentially powerful portable computers, and few consumers realize the implications of what their dear devices are automatically doing.