The House Energy and Commerce Committee asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai on April 23 for a lengthy list of details about historical consumer location information that, according to recent media reports, the company maintains internally and refers to as “Sensorvault.”
According to the committee’s letter, press reports say that Google collects the location data from Android phones, Google searches, and Google apps that have location enabled, and has been doing so in some cases for up to ten years. That data, the committee said citing press reports, “enables Google to track the ‘whole pattern of life’ of individuals,” and that Google has “therefore compiled an extraordinarily detailed picture of the movements and whereabouts of a vast number of consumers.”
That location data, according to a New York Times report, can be obtained from Google by law enforcement agencies through search warrants seeking to provide information on electronic devices that were present near scenes of crimes.
In its April 23 letter to Google, the committee said: “the potential ramifications for consumer privacy are far-reaching and concerning when examining the purposes for the Sensorvault database and how precise location information could be shared with third parties.”
The committee, citing its “ongoing commitment to protect the privacy of the American people and to understand the benefits and risks of various data collection and use practices,” asked Google to provide answers by May 7 to a list of questions dealing with why Google collects and keeps location data, whether it keeps similar data outside of the Sensorvault data, who is allowed to access the data, other devices, and services through which Google collects location data, whether consumers can opt out of data collection, and whether Google shares the data with third parties other than law enforcement agencies.