Google may be harvesting user data from Android phones


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been briefed by cyber experts in the United States, who claim the cyber giant is mining up to one gigabyte of android phone data each month - at the user's expense and passing it on to advertisers.

Google's upcoming Android operating system (OS), dubbed Android P, will feature the biggest overhaul yet, the company announced last week at its annual I/O developer conference.

While Google's initial response refuted numerous claims made by Quartz, and explained again and again how Google and Android handles sensitive location data, the letter to the FTC again uses the report as its main basis. "Some mobile plans may only include a few gigabytes of data so if Google is harvesting a gigabyte of data, it is a very real cost to consumers", said David Vaile, chairman of the industry group, the Australian Privacy Foundation.

While Google is open about the fact that it uses location information in apps like Maps, the company is not so forthcoming about monitoring location information when these services are not being used.

Oracle claims Google is using location data from its Maps feature, even when the feature is not being used by the phone owner.

"The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals' locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy", the Quartz report says. Some say they are able to on their 2016 Pixel XL, while others say they have the same phone but are unable to. In wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, especially amid the crisis that unfolded in recent weeks over the sharing of personal user data, Google may have found itself in a soup. Nor will removing the SIM card stop it from happening.

The ACCC told The Register "We are looking at the practices of digital platforms including Google and Facebook as part of our digital platforms inquiry".

Responding to the latest privacy concerns surrounding Google, a spokesman for the US-based search engine operator said the company has users' permission to collect data.

That Oracle had come to Australia to do the presentation showed the value of the ACCC inquiry, he said. The app uses the Google Play icon when requesting device administrator privileges.

The statement said: "Google is completely focused on protecting our users' data while making the products they love work better for them".