Google Accused of ‘Stealing’ Android Data

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Google is being sued for (allegedly) secretly using Android users’ cellular data allowances without user consent, to perform “passive” information transfers.

Passive Information Transfers

The lawsuit was filed by Taylor et al v. Google in a US federal district court in San Jose.  The group of Plaintiffs have filed a Class Action Complaint against Google which alleges that those who own Android mobile devices are having their costly cellular data plans used (secretly) by Google to enable its own surveillance activities.  The complainants say that Android user data plans are therefore the subject of “passive” information transfers which are not initiated by any action of the user and are performed without their knowledge and that these information transfers deprive users of data for which they, not Google, have paid.

Designed That way?

It is also alleged this secret transfer of users’ data allowances can happen when a user is within Wi-Fi range to avoid consuming cellular data allowances but that Google may have designed and coded its Android operating system and Google applications to indiscriminately take advantage of data allowances and passively transfer information at any time of the day, and even when Google apps have been put to the background, the programs have been closed completely, or location-sharing has been disabled.

Didn’t Sign Up To It?

The complainants are also arguing that they didn’t consent to the transfers and what amounts to subsidising of Google’s surveillance, and were given no warning or option to disable the transfers.  It is alleged that although users sign up to Terms of Service, the Privacy Policy, the Managed Google Play Agreement, and the Google Play Terms of Service, none of these documents explicitly disclose that Google spends users’ cellular data allowances for background transfers.

Android Lockbox

One explanation may be the Android Lockbox project, whereby Google collects Android user data to use within Google.  This has been in operation since 2013 and this project is understood to be a way for Google to collect information through its Mobile Services, apps and APIs, Chrome, Drive and Maps (pre-installed with Android) with a view to tracking usage of its own apps and to compare those apps with third-party and rival apps.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The matter is the subject of unproven allegations and a legal case and, as such, there is no official conclusion but based purely on the details in the complaint it does seem that it would unfair for customers to have paid for a certain quantity of data which may not only be technically unavailable when they need it due to background data transfers for Google’s own ends, but that there appears to have been no real consent or no way to stop it.  Some may say that Google appears to have ‘form’ in this area.  For example. Back in May, Google was the subject of a lawsuit by filed over allegations that Google illegally tracked Android users’ location without their consent and that this still happened when location tracking features had been manually disabled. It appears, therefore, that while big tech companies argue that data and information may be legitimately needed to improve services, users are increasingly conscious that there are ongoing issues concerning transparency, privacy and more that need to be monitored and questioned where necessary.

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