Google has banned the use of a tracking tool developed by SafeGraph, which sold location data to Android users for COVID-19 mapping and other purposes. SafeGraph is one of several companies that collect geolocation records using plugins in Android apps and then distribute them to their clients, including The New York Times and the Centers for Disease Control.
In June, Google told software developers that they must remove SafeGraph plugins from their products within seven days. The SafeGraph product lock follows Google’s earlier measures to combat user location plugins. In December 2020, Google and Apple banned a similar service called X-Mode Social, which reportedly included the US military among its clients. Apple has not yet commented on its SafeGraph policy.
The data that SafeGraph collects and sells is supposedly anonymous, but experts say location datasets can often reveal details about people despite being depersonalized. The US government has endorsed Google’s move to tackle services like SafeGraph, but said it and Apple need to develop a viable plan to protect their customers’ privacy, not just play with apps that sell sensitive user data.