Google Faces Australian Inquiry Over User Data Harvesting Concerns With Android

Facebook is not the only company whose user data policies have captured the attention of a government agency. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is investigating claims that Google harvests private data from Android users. This investigation could potentially affect over 10 million Australian Android users.

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The ACCC is particularly concerned that digital platforms like Google and Facebook have tremendous influence on the advertising market. Oracle Australia, a branch of Oracle Corporation, recently met with members of the ACCC and claimed that Google harvests an average of a gigabyte of data a month from individual Android users. This data includes location information regardless of whether a user has turned off their location or does not have a SIM card. Google services users should technically be able to delete or turn of their location history. Google notes, “With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.” Oracle’s accusations hint that Google may not be complying with their own policies.

Google’s privacy policy states that they save “When you search for a restaurant on Google Maps or watch a video on YouTube, for example, we process information about that activity - including information like the video you watched, device IDs, IP addresses, cookie data, and location.” That company claims that it retains this information in order to develop new services and improve existing ones, provide more “useful, customized” content, to better understand how their services are used, improve security, and deliver more relevant ads. Everyone who uses Google services must agree to these terms and conditions, but there is currently a debate over whether this consent is valid.

Google says users are also able to control what ads they receive. This process can unfortunately, however, be overwhelming and time-consuming. Google partners with over 2 million websites and apps and offers nearly 100 user “topics”. Google contends that they do not give out information that would personally identify a user, but is otherwise rather vague about the exact information that it does provide to advertisers.

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This is not Oracle’s first entanglement with Google. In 2010, Oracle sued Google for purportedly injecting portions of Oracle’s Java platform into Android without a licensing agreement; Oracle lost the case. More recently, Oracle funded various non-profit groups to smear Google’s name. Google and the ACCC have battled each other in the past as well. In October 2011, the ACCC complained that Google spread misinformation when they used a competitor’s name in an advertising campaign. The Federal Court of Australia upheld the ACCC appeal in 2012.