Google reportedly monitors usage of rival Android apps

Sources claim that the Alphabet subsidiary keeps tabs on competitors to develop its own apps

The rear of an Android smartphone including its camera

Google has been reportedly using Android to monitor how users interact with non-Google apps, according to internal documents obtained by The Information.

Anonymous sources told the publication that the Alphabet subsidiary has been collecting “sensitive” data for a number of years in order to aid the development of its own competing apps.

The strategy was reportedly used earlier this month when the tech giant’s YouTube subsidiary was working on launching Shorts - its rival to TikTok in India. According to the sources, Google staff used Android to conduct market research into the local population’s TikTok usage habits.

Internally known as ‘Android Lockbox’, the effort reportedly allows Google staff to view how often rival apps are opened and for how long they’re used.

According to The Information, Android Lockbox obtains its data in instances when users agree to share information with Google as part of the Android setup process, allowing Google to provide a more personalised experience. However, the publication also found that the information is also used for competitive research. The gathered data is said to be anonymous and not personally identifiable.

IT Pro contacted Google for comment but is yet to receive a response from the company. In a statement given to The Information, the tech giant admitted that it has access to usage data from rival apps but added that the programme is public and that other developers are not prohibited from obtaining similar data.

Nevertheless, the real impact of the programme is speculated to be much wider, due to the fact that Android Lockbox can access any device which contains Google’s preinstalled apps. On the other hand, developers of competing apps can only see information from phones that have their apps.

The allegations come weeks after Google was hit with a data privacy lawsuit, which alleged that it has been monitoring users’ behaviour on mobile apps even if they've opted out of tracking.

The complaint, which was filed in a US district court in San Jose, California, accused Google of monitoring what users are looking at when using apps for everyday activities such as reading the news or hailing a cab, despite opting out of “Web & App Activity” tracking in their Google account settings.

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