Douglas Leith, a computer science professor at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, has investigated exactly how much data Android devices send back through the Google Messages and Google Dialer apps.
Some apps send data even when users specifically opt out but have policies to control the type and quantity of information that are much stricter for third-party apps. Google’s own apps don’t seem to follow the same rules, however.
Professor Leith took a closer look at Google Dialer and Google Messages, both of which send a significant amount back to the company. He found that data sharing can’t be stopped by the user, who usually isn’t even aware of what’s happening in the background.
“The data sent by Google Messages includes a hash of the message text, allowing linking of sender and receiver in a message exchange,” explains Leith. “The data sent by Google Dialer includes the call time and duration, again allowing linking of the two handsets engaged in a phone call.”
“Phone numbers are also sent to Google. In addition, the timing and duration of other user interactions with the apps are sent to Google. There is no opt out from this data collection,” Leith added in his paper.
Leith explained that he made a Google Takeout request that allowed him to receive all the data Google collected from him. Everything he collected during his research was not included in Google’s data.
He also explained that, while individual data is sent anonymously, it’s easy to use the Android ID and other information to make correlations that reveal phone numbers. Leith reported all of his findings to Google, and the company said it plans to make significant changes to data collection policies, but didn’t clarify when.
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