The mobile operating system by Google has become the most popular in the industry. This is of course because of the large amount of devices it runs on. The question is: How much of a privacy do Android users have? How much information does Google collect?
Note that this is not a guide on how to protect your privacy. All it is, is a not at all comprehensive list of things that are collected when you use a standard Android phone.
Google data collection
Obviously, Google collects location data. It is said that it doesn’t matter if you have your location turned off or on. I don’t know how creditable this is, but I’ll still put it out there. Along with your location the unique identifier of your phone and your phone number can be collected. Google will also collect information about the apps you’re running and your device statistics.
If you login into Google services, of course, the data that you choose to share with Google, will be collected by Google. Also, if you choose to use Google Now(which you have to if you own a Android Wear device) everything you say will be sent to Google and location data will be enhanced.
Another big privacy concern is about the new Google Now on tap feature, introduced in Android Marshmallow. This feature allows you to open up Google Now on any screen, and having it read everything on the screen. Google Now will give suggestions like definitions, travel times and hotel booking. The problem here is that the processing of the data on the screen does not happen on your phone. Your entire screen will be sent to Google to be analyzed. Of course, you can turn this off, but it is on by default.
Here’s a general list of other things Google collects:
- Things you search for
- Websites you visit
- Videos you watch
- Ads you click on or tap
- IP address and cookie data
- Email address and password
- Phone number
- Where you live
These are the things Google lets us know about. They could be collecting a lot more, but all we can do at this point is speculate.
Is there a way to keep Google off your phone?
When you ask this online, most of the replies you will get will say: Just don’t log into your Google account when setting up your phone. This is in fact not a complete solution. There will still be information sent to Google. The best solution if you want to keep on using Android is getting a custom rom like CyanogenMod without Google Apps. You can still download and install apps from the internet and 3rd party app stores like the Amazon store.
Even though the privacy rules have improved over the years, there are still a few privacy concerns.
- There is still no way to block app permissions. If a app demands to know about your contacts, device info or location there is no way to block it. This will be fixed in Android Marshmallow, but most phones still don’t run the latest version.
- The play store does not have any app control systems. Anyone can upload an app to the play store, which is great for small developers, but also easily allows malicious code to be put on the store.
On a standard version of Android, most of the features that collect data about you can be easily tuned off, but not all. As I’ve said, the best way to keep Google’s nose out of your business is to flash a custom rom on your phone. Because of this, I don’t think Google spying is the worst thing you should worry about. What you should really be worried about is the data collection software put onto your phone by mobile carriers and the government, and it doesn’t matter what mobile OS you use.
“A cell phone can easily be turned into an NSA microphone.”
– Handlers of Edward Snowden, whistleblower
“Cell phones are tracking devices in disguise.”
– Richard Stallman, founder of GNU