Study Highlights Scale of Google’s Data Collection

A major part of Google’s large-scale data collection occurs while the user is not directly engaged with any of its products through a variety of techniques that “may not be easily graspable by a general user,” a new study has claimed.

When the user starts interacting with an Android phone, the amount of data sent back to Google increases significantly, primarily driven by data activity from Google’s publisher and advertiser products such as DoubleClick and AdWords.

“This experiment suggests that even if a user does not interact with any key Google applications, Google is still able to collect considerable information through its advertiser and publisher products,” the Google Data Collection study said.

“While using an iOS device, if a user decides to forgo the use of any Google product (ie no Android, no Chrome, no Google applications), and visits only non-Google webpages, the number of times data is communicated to Google servers still remains surprisingly high. This communication is driven purely by advertiser/publisher services.”

Published by Digital Content Next and conducted by Professor Douglas C Schmidt, professor of computer science at Vanderbilt University, the study found that a dormant, stationary Android phone communicated location information to Google 340 times during a 24-hour period – nearly ten times more than Apple device communicates with Apple servers.  

The report tracks the various touchpoints when Google collects data about a user to determine location and interests. The report also highlights how Google uses publisher and advertiser tools to collect a wide variety of data without the direct knowledge of the user.  

The study concludes: “Google counts a large percentage of the world’s population as its direct customers, with multiple products leading their markets globally and many surpassing one billion monthly active users. These products are able to collect user data through a variety of techniques that may not be easily graspable by a general user.

“A major part of Google’s data collection occurs while a user is not directly engaged with any of its products. The magnitude of such collection is significant, especially on Android mobile devices. And while such information is typically collected without identifying a unique user, Google distinctively possesses the ability to utilize data collected from other sources to de-anonymize such a collection.

In a statement responding to the report reported by The Washington Post, Google said: “This report is commissioned by a professional DC lobbyist group, and written by a witness for Oracle in their ongoing copyright litigation with Google. So, it’s no surprise that it contains wildly misleading information.”

The Post also reported that Google said it does not link anonymous activity with people’s Google accounts once they sign in. “In the case of private browsing, information is deleted when someone turns the mode off. Google also said it does not link anonymized data collected from advertising cookies with users’ accounts,” the Post reported.