INTERNET SEARCH GIANT Google is under investigation in South Korea over allegations that its mobile advertising unit illegally collected location data.
The company's Seoul office was raided by police, who revealed that Google was being probed on suspicion of collecting location information through Admob without users' consent. Korean web portal Daum Communications was also raided on similar grounds.
The police said that Google should have sought permission from the Korean Communication Commission to track users' locations and that they suspect it did not do this. Google said it is cooperating with the police, according to Reuters.
Location-based services are becoming increasingly popular, with a number of location aware social networks like Foursquare gaining momentum. It is particularly important to advertisers, who want to know where customers are and lure them into their nearby shops if possible. This prompted Google to buy the mobile advertising firm Admob last year for $750 million, but it appears that decision has come back to bite it.
Google has been in hot water in South Korea before. Last month many of the country's internet portals filed anti-trust complaints against the company, claiming it was stifling competition in Korea's mobile internet search market, where it enjoys a 20 per cent share.
This latest investigation follows recent concerns over user privacy with regard to location data. All of the popular smartphone operating systems were slated for their approaches to collecting data, with US lawmakers questioning Google, Apple, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM and HP over their location data policies.
Microsoft admitted that it collects location data, but it highlighted the options in Windows Phone 7 to turn off location tracking, a feature that many rival mobile operating systems don't have. Apple denied that it collects location data, saying it collects anonymous 'traffic' information instead, which is effectively the same thing worded to get it off the hook.
This is also not the first time Google has been caught with its pants down, or rather spying on others with their security pants down. Last year the company gained notoriety when its Streetview cars picked up data from unsecured WiFi connections. It is still being investigated for this in some countries around the world.
Now that things are getting more serious in the location data game, we might start to see other smartphone makers like Apple and Microsoft being investigated for similar privacy breaches. µ