Google Data Harvesting From Android Phone Come Under the Scanner of Australian Regulators

Google Data Harvesting From Android Phone

This is not the first that Google has landed into hot waters for collecting and using user data. Google latest news item came from Australia. In fact, many other tech giants have bear the brunt of such allegations from time to time and has faced investigations. The latest case in point is Facebook Cambridge Analytica saga.

This time around, Google has come under investigation from Australian regulators, Australian Competition and Consumer commission on accounts of harvesting huge amounts of data from android phones. The under investigation includes users location information. It was a smooth ride for Google until Oracle revealed that Google might be harvesting more than a Gigabyte of data every month.

This has put more than 10 million android users sensitive information at risk and raised many eyebrows. What even more shocking is that fact that Google is paying Australian telecom service providers to send user data. If Oracle revelation is even half-true, you could imagine how much money Google might be paying to these telcos to get their hands on user data.

How It All Began?

Although, no one can exactly tell how long Google has been harvesting the data of Australian users through their mobile devices but there is a suspicion that this shoddy tactic might be going around for quite some time. The amazing discovery was made when Oracle was delivering a presentation in front of The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The ACCC was holding an inquiry into digital platforms.

Fueled by the concerns raised by Australian media and Australian news related to the impact of tech giants such as Google and Facebook on advertising industry, ACCC took the matter seriously. In a presentation delivered by Oracle, it was revealed that android devices are sending pinpoint location information even when the location service is disabled. In addition to this, user search history was also not safe.

How Google Did It?

To harvest data from android devices, Google mapped IP addresses, Wi-Fi connection spots or communication towers in order to know where the device is connecting from, even when the user has turned off location services.

With advancement in technology, android phones are now capable of biometric identification, thanks to integrated fingerprint sensor. These fingerprint sensors can calculate your exact location in a building by using air pressure.

Google’s Response

Google tried to brush off the allegations under the carpet by saying that harvesting of data is done with user’s permission. This raises an important question that whether it can be considered a valid consent or not? Would you expect to hear such a causal response on such a sensitive matter like this from a tech giant like Google? Disturbingly, the answer to both these question is no.

Some of the readers might think that we are being harsh on Google. Just to give you an unbiased perspective, let us look at what Google Privacy Policy mentions. Google Privacy Policy under heading “Data we process when you use Google” mentions, “When you search for a restaurant or watch a video on You Tube, for example, we process information about that activity – including information like the video you watched, device IDs, IP addresses, cookie data and location

Do you see any reference to android devices here? No, right. The policy further states, “When you use Google services we may collect and process information about your actual location

What’s Next?

The Chairman of ACCC, Rod Sims, said, “The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission met with Oracle and is considering information it has provided about Google services. We are exploring how much consumers know about the use of location data and are working closely with the privacy commissioner.”

David Vaile, Chairman of Australian Privacy Foundation blasted Facebook and Google for their casual response towards user’s privacy by saying, “They are both extremely good at manipulating the law and they use those legalities. Their initial approach is to ignore any potential breaches of privacy and, as we have now seen, when people notice, their approach is to ask for forgiveness.

He further adds, “Google has self-evolving machine-learning algorithms that use this data being sent from Android devices. They let them loose on the data and see what they come up with. Yes, they want to improve their services but on a competitive basis they want to consolidate their leadership in AI.”

He admitted that Google has made progress towards the protection of customer rights but it is either too slow or insignificant considering how big the issue of user data privacy is. He also thinks that Google and Facebook are not the only culprits but third party applications might also be involved in collecting and selling users data to other companies.

Wrapping Up

Tech giants in general, Google, and Facebook in particular have a poor track record when it comes to respecting user data privacy. It is up to users to read the privacy policy carefully before ticking the box beside “I accept the terms and conditions” statement and pressing the “I Agree” button. On the other hand, tech giants need to be regulated especially when it comes to how they collect, store and use customer data.

What do you think about Google’s move to harvest user data and what could that mean for Australian users? What should The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission do? Feel free to share your opinion with us in the comments section below.

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