Anyone who knows me on even a casual level knows how much I value my privacy. I think of my personal data as currency, and since tech companies build billion-dollar businesses from data it's not worth a trivial amount. I also know that there isn't any feasible way to stay completely anonymous if I want to go online, pay my bills, buy something at Target or even drive a car. User data collection a by-product of living in 2018 that nobody can get away from. With all this in mind, I think every byte of data collected from me should be used to provide something for me. And this is why I use Google's products and services almost exclusively.
I hate the amount of data Google collects from me. Full stop. I think it's insane what they harvest as well as how they harvest it. But I love what they do with it.
Recently a report from Dr. Douglas C. Schmidt, Professor of Computer Science at Vanderbilt University — who happens to be very well-versed in Android — stated, among other things, that Android makes 10 times more data requests via Chrome, while idle, than iOS does. As expected, stories were furiously typed to fill out what makes for a great headline. This isn't a bad thing, as they also offer a chance for some great commentary from writers, pundits, and users.
I've read the report and think it's well written, impeccably sourced, and factually sound. In other words, what Dr. Schmidt (no relation to former Google exec Eric Schmidt) says is absolutely true in my opinion. And that's great news if you like what Google offers for Android and iOS.
I know you're waiting to hear my explanation so you can roast or applaud in the comments (please, both are welcome) but a few misconceptions need to be cleared up first I think.
- Frequency of data transfer is not equal to the amount of data transferred. 10 times as often is not 10 times as much.
- Users on iOS also see background data being transferred on average of 10 times per hour (compared to 40 times per hour on Android).
- You agreed to this data transfer when you installed Chrome (on iOS) or first used Chrome on your Android phone.
- Dr. Schmidt's paper wasn't about privacy violations, it was about data transfers.
Schmidt's tone may suggest he isn't at all pleased with how much data Chrome sends to Google on Android. If I were tasked with writing the same paper, my tone would be similar. It's good to be concerned about your data and where it goes, no matter how benign you might think that data is. But what we all get in return for that data can't be ignored in any discussion about how or how much of it is going to Google. Apple wins the contest of transferring data less frequently in almost all areas, but it also wins the prize for last place in usefulness when it comes to Siri or Apple Music recommendations. These two things go hand in hand and is why iPhone users install and love Google's services.
Google collecting data helps improve the company's bottom line. Google is not a smartphone company or even a search company. It is an online advertising company, one that happens to employ talented people who build amazing products and services that most everyone loves. Google collecting user data means you can get travel information and see which bar is the best and know if you should take a surfboard or rain jacket when you visit Hatteras next weekend. This isn't a case where some folks down the street are keeping tabs on you — it's a giant company collecting anonymized user data and having computer algorithms sort through it. There is nobody at Google who has a job reading your browser history. Nobody wants to have a job reading your browser history.
Google collects data about the places you visit, and will even ask you about the service and value of services. It can then share this data in Google Maps, or remind you of the last time you visited if you go to the same place or search for information about that place. If you freely contribute to ratings or surveys, it can share that data with others who might not have ever been there. Google looks for trends in your browser history and once specific subjects are stripped away can use this data to show you ads for products that are relevant or suggestions when you ask Assistant to see places to eat in Cape Hatteras. And if you don't want any of this, you can shut it all off by simply reading instead of shouting at the internet.
Nothing here should surprise anyone. Google makes it very clear that it pulls a lot of data about you if you use its services — you can't sign up for any of them without it being pushed right in your face to read and agree to. They also are very transparent about how your data is collected and used, how it's stored, and how you can change your mind and take it all back. This is drastically different from the form letter I had to fill out to see what Apple has collected about me over the years; yes, Apple collects data from users, too. So does Microsoft, and Samsung, and LG. Read those agreements when you buy a phone or a computer or a smart television and you'll be surprised.
In the end, you have to decide if the service provided is worth the price you pay. Sometimes, with products like a Google Home or Android phone, that price is a lot of your data. Other times, it's money and a little bit of your data. In both cases you are the product — one company just thinks your data is worth more than the other.
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