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The missing context around Google’s consequences for Android privacy

A phenomenal Android privacy feature that you probably forgot to use

If you’ve been reading a lot of technical news lately, you may be a little shocked right now.

The series of recently published documents related to a lawsuit in Arizona reveals that Google had some complicated systems to collect location data on Android over the years and that the company reportedly tried at some point to place a global location in the software’s Quick Settings panel, but saw a substantial increase in the number of users which they took advantage of with more prominent positioning.

Google «saw the big increase as an issue that needs to be addressed,» the documents say, and therefore removed the change of location from the Android Quick Settings panel on its own phones and «sought … to persuade other manufacturers to use Android to do the same based on false and misleading information. «

Yamma hamma: It is a greasy chewing pancake. But wait – before you get your pants dirty and bury your phone in the nearest mustard mountain, there are a few important points to consider here – points that play an important role in this story and are largely lost in the middle. all sensational and eye-catching titles.

It does not mean that none of these statements is good , no way. Of course not! But, in their current form, they lack a critical context that would give them a more complete and nuanced picture of the situation.

1. Location switching context

One of the most amazing revelations in these materials is the part where Google removed this location change from Android Quick Settings because of the number of people touching it when it was in front and in the center.

However, here’s the interesting thing: Google didn’t actually remove that switch. It’s still there.



Quick settings location switch, as seen on an Android 11 Pixel phone.

I turned and looked at the phones with Android versions as old as Android 8.0 from 2017, and the location switch is present and available in all, continuing until beta current of Android 12 . This applies to both Google Pixel phones and third-party devices.

When you take a closer look at the court documents, it becomes clear that no one claims that Google deleted that choice as a result of the increased activity that apparently created their presence. This is the version of the phone game of the story that has come to be repeated in most media reports and conversations on social networks. information real says Google just moved that switch to secondary page inside the Quick Settings panel, as in, swipe to that area, where there are a lot of less used switches.

Now the question Why Google has made the change another story. (For its part, Google has officially stated that the Arizona Attorney General and «[sus] competitors leading this application have tried to characterize wrongly [sus] «services» which have always incorporated privacy features into [sus] products and provided robust controls for location data, «and that he» is looking forward to setting the record. «) But regardless of that what the really changed is an important context to consider.

Speaking of which …

2. The context of Google data

The whole situation revolves around the awareness that Google is making some backstage decisions, designed to encourage us all to share location data and other similar information with the company. In turn, this data is used as part of our profiles that determine what kind of ads we see on the web. And these ads allow Google to offer us all its different services (search, Gmail, Documents, Drive, whatever) without charging us, at least at the basic levels of services.

It is tempting to describe all this as part of a «surveillance mission», a «war on privacy» and other similarly accused terms. But let’s take a second to take a step back and think about what the situation really is.

Yes, Google wants to encourage you to give them access to things like location data, and yes, you’re probably making some design decisions that are carefully considered to help you reach that goal. But, fundamentally, the company not sell your data or share it with anyone. You use it to programmatically determine which ads you see on the web. And that’s it.

(It’s probably no coincidence that Google seems to have launched some sort of campaign to address misconceptions in this area. I’ve seen pop-ups on many Google apps and services in recent days, pointing out that Google doesn’t sell or share never information – and that in some cases, such as Gmail and Photo, it doesn’t even use the associated data to target ads. Clearly, Google sees this as a distortion more than anything else).

Do you know what else? As well as that data type is essential to Google’s business, the now sensational notion of «privacy» has become the center of many Business from other Business. What the I pointed out the other week, attacking Google and selling the idea of ​​»privacy» became big business in itself, and the outrage caused by business model from Google is a fundamental selling point in this field.

Before you panic about what Google knows about you and what kind of information you collect, ask yourself: Do you enjoy using Google services and get value from them that you can’t reach? level nowhere else? And business model real of Google and what does the data company really bother you so much?

To quote a Writer exceptionally beautiful Centered on Google that I know:

Google has been honest about how its business works from the beginning – the company mainly offers us free services in exchange for allowing you to use certain parts of our data – the things we look for, the stories we click, and so on. on – to create private profiles of our interests. And then use these profiles to programmatically show us targeted ads that address those interests.

It’s worth saying again: as far as we know, Google has not sold, distributed or used personal data in any way. This seems to be largely lost in the discussion lately – the fact that, although, yes, privacy is obviously important and worth thinking about, what we are talking about here is simply certain selected areas of our data that compiles them. to create a profile that is then used internally and automatically to match the type of ads we see. And while default values ​​tend to go to allow most forms of access, you can take control of how your information is used in a growing number of ways.

If it do what that bothers you, then, from all points of view, you have serious things to think about. However, in most people, including me, once the practical reality of the situation is established, the mentality seems to shift from fierce anger to high shoulder acceptance.

At the end of the day, Google is a business. Yes, Of course You will position things in a way that supports the system at the center of your strategy. The same goes for just about every business out there. The details of the transaction and the amount you provide in exchange for the service vary from court to court.

And on this note …

3. The context of the company’s decision-making process

More than anything, this saga serves as a reminder that, yes, organizations that provide technology services are for-profit entities and, despite the high and sometimes authentic stories they love to wash us with at the end of the day. Everyone is invested in building their own business and selling a story that supports this goal.

Take Apple, for example, a company that, more than any other, has clung to the notion of «privacy» as a selling point lately. All is well, but let’s not forget that Apple’s iOS privacy policies are ready to boost Apple’s own advertising business, such as Explain The Wall Street Journal :

If they target unsubscribed users, advertisers who buy ads through third-party platforms will have to wait three days for information about their campaigns and will only receive aggregate information, such as the total number of users they have made. An action after an announcement, said people familiar with Apple advertising products.

Advertisers who buy advertising space from Apple can receive more data about user behavior, people said. They can tell which version of their ads users saw and what search keywords the ads appeared on, they said. Those advertisers will get results in almost real time, people said.

And, of course, all the hype around the subject also serves as a strong marketing point for business model main al Manzanita : sell hardware and lock it into its ecosystem so you buy more and more devices over time. Apple, unlike Google, relies on continuous hardware sales for most of its revenue. It’s a different model, but like Google, Apple sells the story that best positions its business for success.

Then, Amazon, whose business revolves around us, making us all routinely use their virtual showcase for every purchase, all the time. Therefore, you are selling us the value of your Prime service and continue to add more and more items to that arrangement, despite the fact that, as it has become clearer over time, the value offered it is not so clear as it seems. .

None of this means that these sometimes deceptive and possibly misleading types of tactics are optimal. They are not. But they are part of the business, for better or worse, and on some levels they have always been, even in our pre-technological world.

Finally, it is a reminder that depends US looking beyond the surface, assessing what is really going on in a given scenario, and then looking for our interests.

The good news is that with Android, specifically, it’s not that hard to do, even if it’s usually your job to take the initiative. I have one step by step detailed guide to decide exactly how the information on your phone can and cannot be used and what trade-offs are involved in each associated choice. And the amount of control available only increases with every year And with every new version of Android . It’s primarily about determining your personal priorities and deciding what’s most important to you: preventing you from using your data to show you relevant ads on the web, or accepting the various benefits of Google services that come with such sharing. .

The power to decide is in your hands and, as this situation reminds us, it is the responsibility to make that decision.