​Android has become Google's data-collecting Trojan horse, Oracle warns Australian regulators

22 June 2018 11:10am

19 June 2018. By James Panichi.

Android software is a data-collection service for Google masquerading as a mobile-phone operating system, according to a scathing presentation by US computer-technology company Oracle to Australian regulators.

A PowerPoint presentation used in a meeting with the regulators last month reveals that Oracle has accused Google of using its data-collection technology — including its Android mobile-phone operating system — to ensure that consumers subsidize the data collection itself.

“It’s not about algorithms, it’s about the data,” according to the Oracle slides, most of which were used as part of a presentation to officials from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, or ACCC, and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, or OAIC.

“Consumers are not only the ‘product’ on the Internet, consumers subsidize Google’s data collection,” the presentation says.

The decision to release the slides follows a request by MLex under Australia's freedom of information laws for a copy of the material used to lobby the regulators.

In a statement to the OAIC, Oracle said that the presentation made public today “deals with location data and the updated Google GDPR Privacy terms and is more comprehensive” than the PowerPoint file prepared for Australian regulators. GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation, the EU's new privacy regime, which went into effect May 25.

In its submission, Oracle urged Australian regulators to see Google as an advertising company that uses its three “monopoly data sources” — Search, DoubleClick and Android — to acquire an “unmatched depth and breadth of data.”

“Google uses its size and dominance across various apps and services to increase its data advantage,” Oracle argued. "This dominance simply can’t be matched by content owners and publishers, which find themselves increasingly dependent on Google’s advertising technology."

“Consumer data, collected on a massive scale, is Google’s currency,” Oracle’s submission says.

The presentation was uploaded today to the submissions page of the ACCC’s digital platforms inquiry, which is examining the impact of platforms including Google and Facebook on Australia’s media, publishing and online advertising sectors.

When Oracle’s meetings with Australian regulators were revealed last month, Google Australia rejected Oracle’s claims that the search engine had been secretly piggy-backing on the data allowances provided to Android mobile-phone users to gather marketing information.

In a statement released on May 15, Google called the claims centering around the 2 billion Android users worldwide every month as a “sleight of hand” driven by Oracle’s global corporate tactics.

Oracle’s submission argues that the amount of consumer data now gathered by Google “vastly exceeds” the value of services offered in return — services referred to by Google as 'free.'”

“The monetary value of consumer data is now untethered from the monetary value of Google’s ‘free’ services, which often have a marginal cost of zero,” Oracle argues.

In its submission, Oracle says that Google’s dominant position in the collection of data is further entrenched by policies the company enters into, as part of its commercial dealings with content providers and users. These include Google’s privacy policies and terms of service.

Oracle’s submission describes Android as a “data collection platform” that gathers information about the user through Google Mobile Services data — including Play Store, YouTube and Maps — and through “precise, activity-based location data.”

“Google constantly collects vast swaths of data on all of its users’ locations and their activities, 24/7 — through tracking via enabled location services and also via more surreptitious means, through WiFi mapping, Bluetooth beacons and cell-tower communications,” Oracle says.

The submission also repeats Oracle's contentious assertion that the Android mobile-phone operating system enables it to collect the user’s location data — through “GPS pings” — even when no GPS-aware apps are switched on.

This data, Oracle says, is “personally identifiable” and includes historical data gathered when the device isn’t online. That historical data is recorded, cached and sent to Google servers when the phone connects to the Internet.

“Google knows where you are and what you are doing,” the submission says.

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