According to a research paper published by Vanderbilt University's Professor Douglas Schmidt on August 15, Google’s Android phones are sucking your private life at a much higher rate than Apple’s iPhones—almost 10 times more, on average.Credit: Shutterstock
On August 13 Google was caught snatching location data from users who specifically asked to turn off location history, but Professor Schmidt’s research points out that it goes beyond that.
“Google is the world’s largest digital advertising company,” he says, “[it] utilizes the tremendous reach of its products to collect detailed information about people’s online and real-world behaviors, which it then uses to target them with paid advertising.”
According to Schmidt, Google’s revenues increase in parallel to the refinement of its data collection, since this helps the company to better target its advertising. It’s the same privacy problem that plagues Facebook.
The results look pretty damning. Chrome on Android is sending data back to the Mountain View mothership at a rate of almost 50 times as much as Safari on iPhone.
Schmidt explains that Google collects data in active and passive ways. He says that, every time you sign in to any of its services, from Gmail to YouTube to Photos, you are actively sending information. It’s a necessary evil. The passive ways, however, happen without any user intervention or knowledge. The location data is a good example of that—a user has to actually take steps to stop it from happening, even while he or she thought there was no location gathering after turning off location history.
The research, Schmidt claims in his paper, focused on the passive ways. He intercepted and analyzed all the traffic going to Google servers, analyzing Google’s My Activity and Takeout tools, and the company’s privacy policies, as well as third-party research on Google’s data collection activities.
The results look pretty damning. One data point: Chrome on Android is sending data back to the Mountain View mothership at a rate of almost 50 times as much as Safari on iPhone.
His research final conclusions are not surprising. “[Google is] able to collect user data through a variety of techniques that may not be easily graspable by a general user,” Schmidt points out, “a major part of Google’s data collection occurs while a user is not directly engaged with any of its products. The magnitude of such collection is significant, especially on Android mobile devices.”
And while Google may claim that a lot of this information is anonymous, Schmidts says that “Google distinctively possesses the ability to utilize data collected from other sources to de-anonymize such a collection.” In other words: you and your antics are exposed, individually.
On the other hand, there’s Apple. Unlike Google, the company’s business is selling its products, iCloud services, apps, and content. It has no need to suck so much data from its users. In fact, this is why Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is constantly making a point about how important user privacy is in contrast to Google and Facebook.
And while Apple is not free of the private-data-sucking sin, Schmidt’s research shows that they are not even in the same galaxy as Google.