South Korean Police Raid Google’s Office — What Does It Mean to the U.S?

How do consumers and the feds respond to potential privacy breaches on mobile phones?  Depends on where you are.  In the United States, lawmakers call for hearings, while consumers go to court.  In South Korea, we now know, the feds invade the office of the makers of said mobile phones, in this case, Google.

Google’s offices in South Korea were raided earlier this week, the Associated Press reports, as part of an investigation into how the company collects location data.  Police there allege that Google has been collecting private information on the location of smartphone users without consent through AdMob, the company’s mobile advertising unit.

“We suspect AdMob collected personal location information without consent or approval from the Korean Communication Commission,” a South Korean police official said.

A Google spokesman confirmed to Reuters that the police had visited its Seoul office and said the company was cooperating with their investigation.

The more aggressive approach taken by South Korean police demonstrates the growing concerns worldwide about the potential misuse of personal data as more and more consumers use mobile devices such as smartphones and iPads on a daily basis.

The mobile advertising industry sees the type of information gathered through location tracking is seen as crucial for its efforts to personalize online ads according to individual preferences or locations.

iPhones were revealed last month by two British researchers to be tracking and storing data on users’ locations, while Google’s Android phones were quickly after shown to be storing users’ location and data in a very similar way, both recording the users’ name, location and a phone identifier.

Apple responded by defending its use of iPhone location data and denied that it was tracking the movements of customers.

Google, meanwhile, acknowledged that Android phones temporarily store some location-based information – including GPS location, timestamps and device IDS – but stood firm that the information is not traceable, and is optional for users.

The raid in South Korea came after several South Korean Web portals filed a complaint last month with the local anti-trust regulation authorities accusing Google of unfair competition in mobile connection online search.

While Googe faces those troubles in Seoul, it is also under the spotlight in the U.S. where lawmakers and consumers have taken a more legalistic approach to addressing their suspicions with the company.

Two users from Michigan have also sued the company over complaints that their Android-based phones recorded and stored location data. They have charged Google with using their HTC Inspire 4G terminals to act like tracking devices, illegally recording their every move.

The FTC is reportedly considering a broad investigation into the company’s dominance of the Internet search industry, while both Google and Apple will also testify at a Senate hearing on mobile privacy on May 10.

Left to be seen is whether the aggressive approach taken in South Korea will change Google’s status in the U.S.  Tell us what you think.