Android Collects and Shares 10x More Personal User Data Than iOS

Google Android Phone Privacy Credit: Cryovex
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The long-standing rivalry between Android and iOS users over which mobile operating system is superior has been fought with a vengeance from both sides of the aisle. But while most of these arguments have manifest from hardware, software-based performance and/or feature disparities between the latest iPhone and the slew of Android-powered competitors, a new research paper out this week makes it clear there are much more concerning, privacy-related issues worth debating.

Google’s Hidden Data Collection

Penned by Professor Douglas Schmidt of Vanderbilt University, the research paper published this week by the trade organization, Digital Content Next, revealed that Android devices in idle mode are sending up to ten times more data to Google’s servers than iOS devices are sending to Apple’s.

In testing with Google’s Chrome browser on Android, and Safari on iOS, Android running Chrome in the background was found to have sent location data to Google 340 times within a single 24-hour period (about 14 times per hour) Schmidt notes in his paper.

Schmidt added that an idle Android phone running Chrome in the background can send data to Google at a rate 50 times that of an iPhone running Safari.

Location data, in particular, accounted for roughly 35 percent of all traffic dispatched from Android devices back to Google.

“Google collects user data in a variety of ways,” Schmidt writes. “The most obvious are ‘active,’ with the user directly and consciously communicating information to Google,” for example, by signing into Google services like Gmail, YouTube, and Search. 

Learn More: 10 Phones with the Longest Battery Life You Can Own Today

“Less obvious ways for Google to collect data are ‘passive’ means, whereby an application is instrumented to gather information while it’s running, possibly without the user’s knowledge.

Google’s passive data gathering methods arise from platforms (e.g. Android and Chrome), applications (e.g. Search, YouTube, Maps), publisher tools (e.g. Google Analytics, AdSense) and advertiser tools (e.g. AdMob, AdWords.)”

Schmidt, whose credentials include a PhD. in Computer Science and extensive research in mobile cloud computing and software frameworks, concluded by noting that in the case of Apple’s Safari browser on iOS, Google can’t collect much data from the iPhone (host device) anyways, unless a person is actively using Safari.

Serious Location and Privacy Concerns

Most interesting in the findings presented in Schmidt’s research, by far, is how an estimated 35 percent of all data sent back to Google from Android devices is Location-based data.

Interesting, mainly because it was just last week that Google was forced to update its privacy policies amid revelations that it continues tracking and storing user location data even when they’ve gone ahead and disabled those features (for example, over privacy concerns).

Google’s otherwise shady history of location tracking has even been the focus of a class action lawsuit against the Search-giant.

It’s important to realize that Google’s whole business is dependent on various forms and degrees of data collection, seeing as how its primary revenue stream comes from advertising — whereas Apple’s, in comparison, generates from hardware sales and services like iBooks, the App Store, Apple Music and more.

Still, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how all the negative publicity ultimately impacts Google’s future policies regarding data collection.


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