This month, the Associated Press launched an investigation into Google and discovered the company was able to track its users’ physical movements even when they told them not to. This week, a lawsuit was filed against the Silicon Valley giant over its tracking policies.
In February, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight also revealed that Google was still tracking its users when their Android phones were in airplane mode or disconnected from the mobile network.
Google has previously faced investigation from regulators in the United Kingdom and South Korea for secretly tracking users, and in 2016, it was reported that pre-installed software on Android phones had been sending data to China.
Your Android smartphone is collecting a lot of data on you.
Specifically, almost 10 times more than Apple’s iOS, claims a study by Vanderbilt University professor Douglas C. Schmidt. The report, published August 15, isn’t a great look for the company, which was recently shown to be gathering location data on its users even after they elected to turn off the Location History setting on their devices.
The study specifically notes that “[a] major part of Google’s data collection occurs while a user is not directly engaged with any of its products,” and that “[the] magnitude of such collection is significant, especially on Android mobile devices.”
What’s more, Schmidt finds, Google is able to de-anonymize such data.
That is, assuming the study is accurate — a fact which Google adamantly disputes.
“This report is commissioned by a professional DC lobbyist group, and written by a witness for Oracle in their ongoing copyright litigation with Google,” a Google spokesperson told Mashable in an emailed statement. “So, it’s no surprise that it contains wildly misleading information.”
When reached for comment about Google’s assertion, Schmidt didn’t mince words.
“I am not a witness for Oracle in any ongoing copyright litigation with Google,” he told us over email. “I was a witness for the Oracle vs. Google ‘Fair Use’ trial in May of 2016 (i.e., over 2 years ago), but have not been involved in this case since then. Moreover, that case had nothing to do with Google’s data collection practices.”
What’s more, Schmidt took issue with Google’s statement regarding the accuracy of his work.
“It’s not clear what Google means by ‘wildly misleading information,’ so without more details about what information is ‘wildly misleading’ it’s not possible to provide a meaningful response,” he wrote. “I’m happy to provide responses to specific concerns raised by Google.”
The study itself analyzed the so-called active and passive ways that Google collects data on its users, and notes that passive collection methods have often been overlooked.
“Both Android and Chrome send data to Google even in the absence of any user interaction,” the study finds. “Our experiments show that a dormant, stationary Android phone (with Chrome active in the background) communicated location information to Google 340 times during a 24-hour period, or at an average of 14 data communications per hour.”
In other words, Google is scooping up location data on Android users even if those users are not actively engaged with the device. Which, to be fair, might to be expected if you have some form of location data turned on. It’s the scale and frequency of such collection, highlighted by this study, that may surprise the average Android user.
And simply not using Google apps isn’t enough to free you from the data collection, argues Schmidt. Google of course owns and operates the ad network DoubleClick, which the professor says creates a “purportedly ‘user anonymous’ identifier that Google can connect to a user’s Google Account if a user accesses a Google application in the same browser in which a 3rd-party webpage was previously accessed.”