Google's got plenty of malpractices under its belt, the most recent being its broken policy on the collection of its users' location history. But it still has had the luxury of not having to face the same level of public distaste and scrutiny that Facebook has had to face in the recent past despite its activities being in very similar ballparks.
Bearing this in mind, extensive research conducted by Professor Douglas C. Schmidt of Vanderbilt University - supported by trade organization Digital Content Next - has revealed in just how many different ways Google can collect data from users and reverse-engineer it to identify them and their habits despite the existing premise of anonymity.
For starters, an unused, idle Android device sends data to Google 10 times as often as an idle iOS device does to Apple servers, giving us a clear idea of just how crucial the roles of Android and Chrome are as vessels for Google's data collection. This increases when the devices are actually being used - disproportionately so in Android's case:
In 24 hours, an Android device with Chrome running in the background transmitted location data to Google 340 times in a 24-hour period, averaging roughly 14 data communications per hour. Moreover, location-based information made up 35% of all the data samples transmitted by a device over a given time period.
On an iOS device with Safari active, however, Google's data collection was negligible without direct interaction with the device. Consequently, in this scenario, the aforementioned Android phone would make nearly fifty times the data requests the iOS device would make.
Here's another big one: Google can passively link anonymous user data with a user's personal information, primarily by using its many advertising algorithms. These are supposed to be anonymous, but when Google sends device-level identification data to its servers, advertising identifiers in apps and third-party websites can help the company pinpoint who a particular user is.
This extends to the commonly used DoubleClick cookie ID, which tracks user activity on websites. Once Google associates it with a user's account, it can link it with activities that should have been anonymous to begin with.
To round this summary off, Google's data collection occurs largely when a user isn't directly engaging with any of its products. It's difficult to imagine the sheer amount of data the company has on any given user - especially given there are more than two billion people in the world who carry an Android device pretty much 24 x 7.
These are only the broader, more digestible discoveries made by Prof. Schmidt in his study. If you wish to glean more information in much more granular detail, you can read the entire paper from over here.
Source: Digital Content Next
Do the results of this study worry you? Or do you reckon it's not really that big of a deal? What would you do with this information? Leave your thoughts in the comments!