Android, Google, Bluetooth, Location, and Privacy

I recently bought a Lego Technic set for my son. It has motors controlled via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), using an Android app (Lego Technic Control+).

The Lego app informed me that it needs to have both Bluetooth and location services enabled in order to work. So, obviously Bluetooth needs to be enabled, but why Location Services?

At first I assumed that Lego were being sneaky with permission requirements, even though it seemed counter to their general company ethos. A little digging on the Internet revealed that Google started to make Location Services a pre-requisite for using BLE. It’s not just Lego’s app that required this. Any app that needs to scan for BLE devices has to require Location Services.

In order for me to use a childs toy, Google requires me to enable fine-grained location tracking, and to agree to share MAC addresses and other information that’s associated with my location.

There is no reasonable explanation for this, except that Google will use whatever lever they can in order to track as much information about you as they possibly can. If anyone can provide a less creepy explanation (that actually makes sense!), then please leave a comment.

Otherwise, it cements my opinion that Google has become a truly shitty company.

Why do I even care?

I’m not sure I can articulate this succinctly.

Tracking data is clearly very valuable to some people, because they go to great lengths to get it. These efforts get hidden behind the scenes, but you can see them if you know how to look. The goal is to build as detailed a picture as possible of us, by piecing together many thousands of bits of data. That’s immensely powerful data, and I’m wary of how it is, or could be, being used.

A mobile phone is a particularly personal device, pretty much nobody but me uses it, and it goes most places with me. As a matter of principle, I should be in control of that device. Yet, for example, if I deny Google permission to track my biometric data, my phone starts raising intrusive alerts when I send or receive SMS, or receive phone calls. It doesn’t need biometric data to send an SMS. Google just wants this data. This irks me quite a lot!

So the issue of Bluetooth requiring my location data to operate is another example of Google using their control of my phone to gain the data that they want. In this case, I have no real option but to comply, and that also irks me quite a lot!

In any other setting, this level of personal intrusion would never be tolerated. If someone was literally following you around with a notebook, recording every detail they observed, it would get very annoying very fast! Yet that is what’s happening, it’s just that you don’t easily see it.

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