Google Shuts Down Android Data Programme ‘Over Regulatory Fears’

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Mobile Network Insights service provided aggregated, anonymised user data to mobile operators to help them spot network weaknesses

Google confirmed it has shut down a programme that provided user data to mobile network operators, in a move said to be a response to heightened scrutiny of the way companies handle customers’ personal information.

The move indicates the way Google and other companies are changing their operations as regulators in Europe and elsewhere crack down on their use of users’ data.

Google said the programme, called Mobile Network Insights, was withdrawn due to a change in “product priorities”.

The scheme launched in March 2017 to help mobile operators spot areas in their networks  where performance could be improved.

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Aggregated data

It did so by providing aggregated data on the signal strengths and connection speeds users experienced in given areas.

The service was free of charge and the anonymised data was collected only from users who opted into sharing location and diagnostic data with Google.

The data provided included the operator’s own network performance as well as that of competitors, who were not named, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters, which earlier reported the move.

Google said it remains “committed” to improving network performance for users.

The service was shut down in April due to Google’s fears that it could attract regulatory scrutiny, Reuters’ sources said.

Google did not confirm whether regulatory issues were involved in its decision and Reuters’ sources said no reason was given when the programme was cancelled.

Regulation

Secondary reasons for the change probably included problems with ensuring the quality of the data and operators’ slowness in carrying out upgrades to improve network weak spots, according to Reuters’ sources.

Last year’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) prohibits companies from sharing users’ personal data with third parties unless they explicitly consent to it or if there is a legitimate business reason to do so.

Google’s Android terms and conditions state it may collect and share network connection quality information, but it does not specifically mention wireless carriers as recipients of the data.

Facebook operates a service called Actionable Insights that provides anonymised data to carriers on users’ gender, age and other attributes so that they can spot trends and better target their marketing.

Facebook said in a statement that this programme was announced publicly and has been “carefully designed… to protect people’s privacy”.

Google did not include demographic data in its Mobile Network Insights service.

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