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Google accused of collecting data from rival apps to boost its own

The revelation has come at a time when Google is already facing antitrust scrutiny.
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Based on the recent report by The Information (paywall), it was revealed that Google has apparently put an internal program in place to tap on “sensitive” data that is collected by its operating system, Android. The internal program understands and analyses how Android users react with non-Google apps to learn and make their proprietary apps better.

Internally known as “Android Lockbox” in the company, the program tends to analyze aspects including the amount of time non-Google apps are opened and how long they are being used, among other factors.

It is, however, worth noting that the collection of such sensitive data is only done after obtaining users’ consent. Having said that, users most often tick all the boxes there are when setting up their Android devices and most don’t invest enough time or effort in understanding what’s being done with their data. As a result, programs such as this one, which prey on the sensitive data of users, often come as a surprise revelation.

Raising antitrust concerns, Google’s ownership of the operating system makes it well-placed to use data about competitor apps to potentially enhance their own products, features, and company acquisition goals.

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The news about the Lockbox was revealed on Friday by Google, wherein the company said that it also collects “basic data about app usage – such as how often apps are opened – to analyze and improve services”, much like any other developer. The data collection is done through the Android App Usage Data API.

Google also went on to say that the data collected for the Lockbox helps the company improve aspects such as battery performance via the Android Adaptive Battery feature and provide better app suggestions as well.

“The API doesn’t obtain any information about in-app activity and our collection of this data is disclosed to and controllable by users,” said a Google spokesperson.

With the House Judiciary Subcommittee calling all big tech heads including Sundar Pichai from Google, the information about the Android Lockbox became more prominent. The hearing, which now seems like it may be postponed, was originally called due to the “ongoing investigation of competition in the digital marketplace”.

A coalition of state attorneys general and the Justice Department will be grilling Google over a number of antitrust allegations. Google currently dominates the sphere of online advertising and its operating system Android is found on nine out of every ten devices worldwide, making Google a highly influential company across the world.

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