By now it’s no secret that big tech companies routinely collect tons of data about their users’ online habits. And as Facebook’s recent scandal with Cambridge Analytica showed, sometimes they sell that information to outside parties without first telling users about it. As a result, people must always be careful about sharing too much information online. According to a new study conducted by a Vanderbilt University professor, however, even the most cautious users probably can’t escape the all-seeing power of Google.
The study showed that an idle Android smartphone running Google Chrome in the background would relay information to the search giant’s servers as often as 14 times an hour. Google also collects a wealth of data from places like its Maps app, YouTube, and especially through its DoubleClick Ad Network. In fact, the dominance of the latter service possibly allows the company to grab information from nearly any website in the world. “These products are able to collect user data through a variety of techniques that may not be easily graspable by a general user,” wrote the study’s author Douglas Schmidt. “A major part of Google’s data collection occurs while a user is not directly engaged with any of its products.”
The publishing of this report caps off a week of bad press for Google. According to an investigation by the Associated Press, the company continues to collect location data on Android phones that have had their “location history” settings switched off. Google faces a lawsuit from two California men who claim the company was misleading about the extent of its location tracking efforts. Still, Google denies any wrongdoing in response to both recent reports. The company had some especially harsh words for Direct Content Next, the organization that published Schmidt’s data collection study. “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,” said the company in a statement.
- Should Google be more forthcoming to users about the company’s data collection practices? Why or why not?
- Do you think it has become impossible to avoid being tracked online by tech companies?