Want Google to track you less? Get an iPhone, ditch the Android

Study finds Google is tracking Android device location even when the phone is stationary.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

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A new study has found that a stationary iPhone sends data 50 times less frequently to Google's servers than a stationary Android phone.

That's according to a 55-page report titled 'Google Data Collection', carried out by Professor Douglas C Schmidt, professor of computer science at Vanderbilt University.

The study comes as Google faces criticism and now a lawsuit over the revelation that turning off Location History does stop it tracking iPhone and Android users' location.

It's worth noting the paper was published by Digital Content Next, a trade association supported by major news networks, including Associated Press, Bloomberg, Financial Times, The Guardian, ESPN, and ZDNet's parent CBS Interactive.

The study delves into Google's ad business and the role data collection plays. But from a user perspective, it focuses on Google's collection of passive data, such as location data, as opposed to data a person knowingly shares with Google by using Search or Maps.

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

To compare Google's passive data collection, Schmidt set up an Android phone with Chrome active in the background, and an iPhone with Safari but not Chrome. Both the phones were left stationary and untouched for 24 hours.

Over that period Schmidt found that the Android device sent 900 data samples to Google's servers, of which about 35 percent were location related, while the remainder was for Google Play, and device data.

In total, the Android device sent about 4.4MB per day to Google while the iPhone sent 0.76MB per day, or about six times less data than the Android phone.

Google's servers sent just over 40 requests per hour to the Android device compared with 0.73 requests per hour to the iPhone.

The comparison also found that iPhones send data 10 times less frequently to Apple's servers than the Android device sent data to Google's servers. Apple is also collecting location data just once per day on average.

"Our experiments show that a dormant, stationary Android phone (with Chrome active in the background) communicated location information to Google 340 times during a 24-hour period, or at an average of 14 data communications per hour," the author notes.

"In fact, location information constituted 35 percent of all the data samples sent to Google. In contrast, a similar experiment showed that on an iOS Apple device with Safari (where neither Android nor Chrome were used), Google could not collect any appreciable data (location or otherwise) in the absence of a user interaction with the device."


The study shows the data traffic sent to Google from idle Android and iPhone mobiles.

Image: Digital Content Next

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