Google is being investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission following revelations, that came to light through research by Oracle, that the company has been using mobile plan phone data to track the movements of Android phone users. And that is costing users a pretty penny as the data being collected adds about 1GB to the monthly use of many users.
Google and Oracle aren’t the best of friends so it’s not surprising to see the two embroiled in controversy. Back in 2010, Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems. Part of that deal gave them ownership of Java and, after a protracted legal battle – which is likely to see another appeal – Oracle won a case over patent infringement by Google.
According to Oracle, Google was pulling down about 1GB of data from users’ handsets each month without consent. As well as location data, which many people have some awareness of, Oravcle says information like barometric pressure is also snaffled up. That would allow Google to get a more precise fix on your location so they could determine which stores you visited in a multilevel shopping centre as they could determine your position relative to sea level.
Part of the claim being made is that Google’s actions have a financial aspect. This is presumably why the ACCC and not the Office of The Australian Information Commissioenr (OAIC) is involved. The OAIC is typically the agency involved with privacy breaches. According to
According to reports by News Limited, the leaked data is worth $3.60-$4.50 a month. And with at least 10 million Australians using an Android handset, that’s around half a billion dollars of data Google is siphoning.
While there are options to stop some types of data tracking, it’s alleged that the only way to stop Google accessing this data is to turn your phone off. Adjusting settings or even going into flight mode isn’t enough as the data is collected whenever the device is powered on.
Such data is extremely valuable to Google. As the value of online advertising is being scrutinised, Google wants to be able to prove the value of their offering. Having data that allows them to connect the ads being presented to a person with their movements gives them insights for both advertisement effectiveness and for targeting ads to draw people to particular stores.
Given it’s Privacy Awareness Week, it’s a good time to think about how we are being tracked and measured. If it’s established that’s Oracle’s allegations are correct, there are significant implications. In particular, if it’s proven that there is no option to opt out of some of the tracking and Google has not made it clear that they are collecting the data, this would seem to be a failure to follow the Australian Privacy Principles.