Google reportedly has an internal program that allows its employees to access detailed information about how Android users interact with third-party apps and services on their smartphones.
As reported by The Information (opens in new tab), the program, known as “Android Lockbox”, is part of Google Mobile Services and it keeps track of how frequently users launch non-Google apps, how long they use them for and how apps are used on a per-country basis.
The news outlet's report also identified a “Magic Eye” team within the search giant that is in charge of tracking first-party app usage and comparing this with Lockbox data in order to brief executives at the company on how third-party services compare to its own internal ones. Google also allegedly used information from Lockbox to help plan the launch of its new TikTok competitor, Shorts.
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Getting access to Android Lockbox information requires the company's employees to request permission to do so and according to The Information's report, these requests are not always granted.
Android Lockbox begins tracking how users interact with their smartphones once they opt in during the Android setup process. In a support document (opens in new tab), Google explains the type of data it collects when usage and diagnostics is turned on, saying:
“If you turn on usage and diagnostics, your device sends info to Google about what’s working and not working. For example, your device can send info like: battery level, how often you use your apps and quality and length of your network connections (like mobile, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth).”
Google has since responded to The Information's report and the company admitted that it does have access to usage data from competing apps. However, it said that the program is public and that other developers also have access to similar data. The data gathered is anonymous and is not personally identifiable, according to the report.
For those concerned about sharing their smartphone and app usage with Google, you can opt out by heading to the settings menu on your Android device, going to the Google section, tapping on the three dots at the top right of the screen and turning Usage & diagnostics off.
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Via The Verge (opens in new tab)