Android and Privacy

Although I am a huge fan of Google, Android, and all of their respective services, I’m still a little uncomfortable to fully commit to any of them, as first and foremost Google is an advertising company. Any time Google launches a new service or feature, be it for Google, Android, or Chrome, we’re left to wonder how it fits into Google’s business plan. For example, Google recently announced their new Google Now service, which learns your daily patterns and can proactively offer helpful and pertinent information. Seems like a great feature, but it doesn’t take much effort to look down the road and see how Google could use this as another type of ad space. If the purpose of Google Now is to proactively offer information based on learned behavior, who’s to say I won’t begin to see sponsored offers on my screen based on where I am, or what conversations I’ve had through Gmail or Talk? How do we know which of Google’s services are honest and transparent, and which ones are simply yet another one of Google’s giant tentacles created as a means of collecting data?

I’ll elaborate. How do we know which Google services are free, ad-free, and free of taking and logging data, with costs subsidized by increasing our affinity towards Google’s search services, and which services are tracking data on our behavior and usage to paint a better picture of what type of consumers we are?

There should be a clearly defined line showing what Google scans and what it doesn’t. Text messaging? Google collects SMS routing information. Obviously web searches, but what about web history? Does Chrome browser for Android log web history differently than the default Android browser, or other browsers?

If I were to upload my music library to Google Music, does Google blindly store my music or log the artists and genres and factor that into my demographic type? Upon visiting the Google Play Store, I notice Gotye’s single “Somebody That I Used To Know” is recommended to me, with a reason for the recommendation below which says, “Popular with similar listeners”. How was this determined? Through the music I’ve uploaded to Google Music? Through purchases made in the Play Store? Or was it any and all music played through the Google Music app on my Android phone? There is no mention in my Dashboard of what information Google Music collects and associates with my profile, so I imagine this falls under Google’s general privacy policy:

Information we get from your use of our services. We may collect information about the services that you use and how you use them, like when you visit a website that uses our advertising services or you view and interact with our ads and content.

With that general statement, am I to assume that every time I open the Maps app that my location is recorded and logged in Google’s servers and permanently associated with my Google ID? Or is that only if I have location history enabled? Google’s privacy policy specifically mentions location information as one of the types of information they collect and use for tailoring ads. Does Google draw a line here as one of the types of information that should only be collected by opt-in, hence the suggestions to enable Location History? If so, how can we know where Google draws the line with their other services? It certainly isn’t implied, given the general terms indicating they “collect information about the services that you use and how you use them”. The fact is we can’t. And we can’t necessarily go purely by what is or isn’t mentioned in our respective Dashboards, either. What we need is a “Permissions” section associated with every Google service, not unlike the Permissions tab displayed in the Play Store indicating what parts of a user’s device any given app has access to. Full disclosure.

Our phones have become essential and intimate devices. There are certain interactions and utilities which we as users would like to think don’t go beyond the device. There is a separate topic of discussion about what information and interactions between us as users and our phones we can consider to be inherently ours. But until we can know where the line is drawn, I’m going to root for the growth and development of a mobile OS from a company whose primary objective is not to sell ads.

(Shared from my Tumblr)