Google Stops Sharing Some Android Phone Data With Telecom Operators Over Privacy Fears
- The service showed carriers poor spots on their network coverage
- Google is concerned that it may attract a regulator’s investigation
- The decision uses data that frustrates wireless carriers
- The company discontinued its mobile network insights service in April this year.
Alphabet Google has been providing services to wireless carriers around the world that showed a weak spot in their network coverage, people familiar with the matter told Reuters, due to Google’s concerns that sharing data from users of its Android phone system could attract users’ investigators and controllers.
Withdrawal of the service, which has not been previously reported, has frustrated wireless carriers that have used data as part of the decision-making process in expanding or upgrading their coverage. Although data were anonymous and sharing has become commonplace, Google’s move underscores how concerned the company is about focusing in most parts of the world on data privacy.
Google’s mobile network insights service, launched in March 2017, is essentially a map showing the carrier signal strength and connection speed in each case.
The service was provided free of charge to carriers and vendors to help them manage their operations. Data comes from Google’s Android operating system powered device, which makes it about 75% of the world’s smartphones as a valuable resource for the industry.
It only used data from users who opted into sharing location history and usage and diagnostics with Google. The data were collected, which means they did not explicitly link any information to a different phone user. It also included data about the carrier’s own services and competitors, which were not identified by name.
Nevertheless, Google discontinued the service in April due to concerns over data privacy, telling four Reuters with direct knowledge of the matter. Some of them said that the second factors likely included the challenges of ensuring the quality and connection improvement of the data in order to gradually step in between the carriers.
Google spokeswoman Victoria Keough confirmed the move but declined to elaborate, saying only that “product priorities” were behind. Two out of four people told Reuters that no reason for Google notices was specified on carriers when the service was shut down.
“We worked to help mobile partners in a program improve their networks through integrated and anonymized performance metrics,” said Keough. “We remain committed to improving network performance across the service for our applications and users.”
Google’s loss of service is one of the latest examples of how Internet companies choose to end data-sharing services without the risk of a breach or further scrutiny by Google – The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, introduced last year. Sharing user data with third parties without consent or valid business reason Banned from doing so.
US and European lawmakers have focused on how technology companies use user data after revealing a series of large-scale data protection failures and how political consultants have mistakenly shared data to 87 million users through Cambridge Analytica.
In April, Google discontinued the video checkup service from its YouTube operation, which launched in mid-2017 to allow Malaysian customers to compare their supplier’s streaming capabilities to a specific location with another carrier. YouTube spokeswoman Mariana De Felice cited “relatively low user engagement” with video checkups for her retirement, which was not previously known.
Facebook has begun reviewing data deals with app developers, and four major US wireless carriers recently stopped selling data to consumers and other companies in real-time locations.
Internet companies now provide users data to other companies in a bid to improve their revenue or their services because they risk compromising – or appearing to compromise – data privacy. And companies, including Google and Facebook, have reduced access to outside companies’ data over the past two years.
Google’s Mobile Network Insight service was not the only source of customer data used by carriers to determine where cell tower upgrades were needed but were useful because of the sheer volume of Android phones on the market.
Mushil Mostafa, a former employee of Dubai-based Carrier Doo, says it was a unique reference from a horse’s mouth, so you can’t get any better. “But there are investments in other carrier equipment, obviously.”
Facebook offers a similar service called Actionable Insights. Facebook appears to be committed to continuing the service but declined to comment when asked.
Data usage has become common among tech companies as the use of smartphones and applications has exploded in the past decade, but what data is collected and how it is shared is not always clear to users.
Companies are often unclear about where to share their data. Google’s data policy, which Android users agree on, states that it can collect and share information about the quality of network connectivity. Wireless carriers are not specifically mentioned as recipients.
As users demand greater transparency, it’s not clear what violates customer confidence.
Facebook’s actionable insights service for careers includes information about users’ gender, age and other features collected from its applications that help demographic trends target a carrier’s marketing, but it does not bind data to specific individuals.
“We publicly announced the program and carefully designed it to protect the privacy of the public,” Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne said in a statement.
Google said it did not share aggregated or isolated data for user demographics and app usage. The company has rejected a request from vendors to provide any data, it says.
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