Tech experts criticize Google Android privacy, make case for paying consumers for data
The extent of the data Google collects from Android users is immense
Tech experts are highlighting privacy concerns with Google’s Android smartphones, which have sensors that track not only users’ locations, but movements throughout the day, as well.
Mike Davis of the Internet Accountability Project is trying to get tech companies that collect and sell data to pay consumers for that information.
"With Apple, they’re selling you hardware. You’re buying an iPhone for an increased price over the Android phone. But with the Android phone, Google doesn’t really care about making money off the phone as much as they care about making money off the users as the commodity," Davis said.
He added that Google makes consumers into the commodity that they then sell to advertisers.
"I don’t think people understand how much of their personal data they’re giving away, second by second of their movements over the course of a day," Davis said. "People think Google Search is great cause it’s free, Gmail because it’s free, Google Maps is great because it’s free, but Google didn’t become a trillion-dollar monopolist by giving out freebies all day. This data is very valuable."
A tech company executive noted that Google’s definition of its "delete" function on Androids says the tech giant either safely deletes data "or" the company retains the information in an anonymized form.
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While data privacy concerns are not new when it comes to smartphones, the extent of the data Google collects from Android users is immense, according to the tech executive; in a single day, the devices know when users wake up, walk around, get in a car or on a train, ride a bike, sit down and go to sleep.
Google uses this information to present targeted ads to users. For example, if an Android user frequently rides a bike, that user might get ads for bicycle equipment.
While this data collection is anonymous, the computer software expert noted that over time and after a significant amount of information is collected, that data is no longer anonymous, meaning a person’s daily routine ultimately rules out all other individuals besides themselves.
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While some people may not be concerned with the prospect of sharing personal information in exchange for targeted ads that show them exactly what they want to buy when they want to buy it, it can be a slippery slope. The tech expert suggested suggested there may be a time in the future when tech giants are able to use consumer data in a way that people do not expect.
Additionally, there is also a public health concern when all incentives for big tech companies are to get consumers hooked on a product, another tech expert explained. The hundreds of targeted ads people see on social media all day get consumers hooked on buying things with just a few clicks of a button.
Google brings in $150 billion a year with help from the user data it collects, and advocates are pushing to get Google and other tech companies that collect and sell similar information to pay consumers for their data in the same way loyalty grocery store members get discounts for what they buy. Software experts compared selling data to carrying one’s own phone number between different devices.
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The issue of selling data as one’s own personal property has received bipartisan support from members of Congress, attorneys general and governors alike, but critics of ideas to sell data say individual data belongs to nobody; not consumers, not Google, not anyone.
"Treating data like it is property fails to recognize either the value that varieties of personal information serve or the abiding interest that individuals have in their personal information even if they choose to ‘sell’ it," Cameron Kerry and John Morris, Jr., senior fellows covering tech at the Brookings Institute, wrote. "Data is not a commodity. It is information."
Kerry and Morris conclude that privacy legislation should make it easier for consumers to know, correct and delete personal information that tech companies use. Requiring individuals to have control over their own data, they argued, will "not do enough to change a system that is failing individuals…"