South Korea Police Investigate Google’s Mobile Ad Unit

Police in South Korea visited Google’s Seoul offices Tuesday as part of an investigation into whether its AdMob mobile ad unit illegally gathered user location data.

Seoul cybercrime investigator Jang Byung-duk told Reuters, “We suspect AdMob collected personal location information without consent or approval from the Korean Communication Commission.”

Google isn’t the only company to be targeted by Korean authorities. Daum Communications, a regional web company, has been queried about similar data collection, though according to reports has denied wrongdoing.

The investigation comes just a week after Google and Apple came under public and government scrutiny in the U.S. for allegedly collecting data on the location of iPhone and Android OS devices – even when users weren’t using location services.

Apple freely admits to using such information to serve ads via its iAd mobile advertising network but says it doesn’t share the data with partners. It claims a bug caused it to collect data after users had turned off location services in their device settings and pledged to correct the problem.

Last month, Minnesota Senator Al Franken penned a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs seeking more details on the company’s data collection practices. He has also asked both Apple and Google to participate in a May 10 hearing with the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

Franken said in a statement, “The same technology that has given us smartphones, tablets and cell phones has also allowed these devices to gather extremely sensitive information about users, including detailed records of their daily movements and location. This hearing is the first step in making certain that federal laws protecting consumers’ privacy – particularly when it comes to mobile devices – keep pace with advances in technology.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has also requested a meeting with Apple and Google executives to learn what information they are storing, how long they’re storing it, and for what purposes.

Google has not responded to a request for more details.

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