According to a new report released by The Information portal, an internal Google program known as “Android Lockbox” may give company employees access to information about how Android users interact with popular apps and services that don’t belong. to Google.
The program, which works through Google Mobile Services, means that employees can view “confidential” data about other applications, including how often they are opened and how long they are used.
Sources claim that this information has been used to monitor rivals for the Gmail email service or to monitor the use of social media such as Facebook and Instagram.
It is also believed that Google used this program to plan the launch of its competitor TikTok, called Shorts. The information indicates that Google employees have to request permission to view this data in some cases, and that these requests are sometimes denied, according to the site The Verge.
This report comes at a time when Google’s business faces intense antitrust scrutiny in the United States. Google CEO Sundar Pichai must testify in Congress; The company is facing an antitrust investigation by almost every state in the United States and the Justice Department reportedly plans to file an antitrust case of its own.
Although these investigations are believed to focus on the company’s search and advertising businesses, discoveries of possible unfair Android business practices are unlikely to be revealed.
Similarly, the portal The Information reported that Android Lockbox obtains its most useful information when users agree to share information with Google as part of the Android setup process. Users are told that this data allows Google to offer a more personalized experience, but The Information said it also provides data for competitive research.
In response to the report, Google admitted that it has access to usage data from rival applications, but said that the program is public and that other developers can also access similar data.
However, it is believed that Google’s reach with the program is much greater, since it covers any device with Google’s pre-installed applications, while other developers can only see the information of the phones that have their applications.
In this regard, Google said that the data does not provide information on how people behave while using individual applications, but did not say if they had been used to develop competing applications.
The data collected is anonymous and is not personally identifiable, according to The Information. Google mentioned that the data collection is disclosed to users and that they have control over it.
“Since 2014, the Android Application Usage Data API has been used by Google and Android developers who have been authorized by OEMs or Android users to access basic data on application usage, such as frequency with which the applications are opened, to analyze and improve the services “. A company spokesperson said in an email to The Verge.
According to the spokesperson, the application usage information “is obtained only through this API” and can be used to assign battery power to frequently used applications, for Google Digital Wellbeing functions and to improve the application discovery in your Play Store. “The API does not obtain any information about in-app activity and our collection of this data is disclosed and controlled by users,” said the spokesperson.
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