Google was recently accused of using data it collects from us about the way we use apps to further its own business. Using what was called an Android Lockbox, details about what apps we use, when we use them, and how long we use them were collected so Google could allegedly use this information to build competing services for things like TikTok.
This isn't hard to believe, and it's not very different from what we see any tech company doing. Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon all collect data about everything possible under the guise of improving user experience. Google also didn't violate any specific terms with us as customers because we agree with this sort of thing when we first log on to an Android phone. This is a case of Google abusing its market share against its competition, not its customers.
Regulators are still likely to take issue as will software companies trying to compete against Google. Good. This practice needs to be investigated whenever any company does it, and whatever penalties may come from it are Google's to face. What we should be concerned about, though, is another matter.
You have no real choice but to hand over your data to someone.
I'd be lying if I said I don't lean towards the side of a competing developer whenever I hear about something like this. It's not fair when the 800-pound gorilla in the room flexes against a company that has no way to fight against it. Android is everywhere and isn't technically a monopoly, but it's darn close. Google can't be left to do whatever it likes when so many depend on its product.
More importantly, this shows how Google can take something that seems trivial, like how long we use an app, and turn it into something of value. Google benefits by knowing that we will spend X number of minutes watching TikTok videos, for example, so it knows how much time and money to spend on a similar service of its own. We're unwittingly used as market research just because we enjoy the phone we spent our money buying.
I mentioned above that Google isn't alone when it comes to this. How far over the line it went — or where the line even is — is something that hearings will likely decide. But from our point of view, this is no different than the way Windows 10 phones every action back to Microsoft or the way Amazon tracks our shopping time. Since there's no way to stop it, we're being used as cattle to feed big tech.
Regulators should be looking out for us, but are they really?
This is the price of using technology today. The apps and services you use, the company you pay for your internet service itself, and the companies that make your phone and its software know that user data is more valuable than cash. All we can do, and what we really need to start caring about, is that they treat it like it's that valuable.
Apple, Google, and Microsoft all have a pretty good track record when it comes to protecting our data. They may use an "any means necessary" approach when it comes to collecting it, but the three have all become more transparent about what is done with user data. So far, there have been no reports of it being intentionally mishandled. It needs to stay this way if we're continually forced to feed the data in.
When the E.U. and U.S. governments look into the anti-competitive practices of these companies, I hope they also think of our best interests. I'm doubtful based on the path that allowed us to get here, but I still continue to hope.