THE WORLD has woken up to big tech’s dodgy data handling practices since Facebook’s privacy scandal, and now it’s Google’s turn to face the music.
An investigation is currently underway Down Under on the big G’s alleged harvesting of huge amounts of user info from Android phones.
Australia’s consumer watchdog is looking into claims Google is using up to $580 million worth of users’ phone plan data to track customers’ movements.
Tech company Oracle told the ACCC that Google could be hoovering up one gigabyte worth of data from the 10 million Android devices in Australia every month, reports The Australian.
It is believed that the tech behemoth uses this info to snoop on users and shares it with advertisers, notifying them how often its online ads have led to store visits.
What’s more, the data is a lot more granular than Android customers may have been led to believe.
The information beamed back to Google from smartphones includes barometric pressure readings that allow it to identify, for example, what level of a shopping mall you’re on.
By combining this data with your coordinates Google can reportedly tell which stores you’ve visited.
A recent investigation into Google’s data trove revealed the company stores enough browsing info to fill 569,555 pages of A4 paper.
The personal information – plundered from the 3 billion users of Google’s search engine, GPS system, maps, email and YouTube – registers everything from what time users leave for work, to where they go and what transport they use.
Google uses the information to build advertising portfolios of its users’ interests and then targets their screens with products.
Businesses fork out millions to get their adverts shown to people who may be interested in their products, based on personalised digital data.
A gig of data currently costs about $3.60-$4.50 a month in Australia. Multiply that by the 10 million Aussie Android phone owners and you land at Google’s whopping $580 million annual data-snatching bill.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s chairman Rod Sims – who’s leading the watchdog’s inquiry into tech firms like Google and Facebook – described the revelations as “extremely interesting”.
“The more we get into this inquiry the more we realise there are lots of issues (around) competition and privacy,” he told The Australian.
Google has snapped back at the findings, calling Oracle’s allegations “sleight of hand”.
The company also said users can see what data it’s amassing on them by checking their “My Account” settings and controls.
The news comes shortly after the Facebook data breach threw light on Silicon Valley’s mishandling of user info.
That gaffe saw a rogue personality quiz app nab details from 87 million user profiles, some of which was then handed over to now-defunct political propaganda firm Cambridge Analytica.
And while Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was getting grilled over the debacle by US lawmakers, tech experts suggested that Google should also face scrutiny over its data practices.
It looks like their wish was granted.