That both Android and iOS devices collect and send over a lot of user data to their remote servers is not particularly breaking news. However, in a new study, data researcher Douglas Leith from the Trinity College in Ireland has claimed that both Android and iOS continue to send vast amounts of user telemetry data to Google and Apple — alarmingly, even when a user has specifically opted out of device diagnostic data collection. What’s even more alarming is the amount of data that Google seems to be collecting with Android — at startup, the average Android device reportedly sends almost 1MB data to Google’s servers, whereas Apple sends about 42kB.
The study further goes on to say that while at idle, an Android device collects about 1MB data every 12 hours, whereas iOS sends about 52kB. Just for the USA region, Android is seemingly collecting a total of 1.3TB data every 12 hours, while for iOS, that amount reads 5.8GB. Leith has also claimed that both Android and iOS send data to their servers even when users do seemingly basic or everyday tasks — such as browsing through settings, or inserting a SIM card. He also found out that preinstalled apps in both Android and iOS send data to remote servers regularly, even when they are not opened or used. These apps include Siri, Safari and iCloud in iOS, and the likes of Chrome, YouTube, Google Docs and more in Android.
Google, however, has denied the allegations and called the method of study flawed. In response to Leith’s study, a Google spokesperson stated, “According to our research, these findings are off by an order of magnitude, and we shared our methodology concerns with the researcher before publication. This research largely outlines how smartphones work. Modern cars regularly send basic data about vehicle components, their safety status and service schedules to car manufacturers, and mobile phones work in very similar ways. This report details those communications, which help ensure that iOS or Android software is up to date, services are working as intended, and that the phone is secure and running efficiently.”
A spokesperson for Google also told Ars Technica that it is “inaccurate” to assume that opting out of diagnostic data collection means opting out of complete telemetry data tracking, since the two things work differently. Telemetry data, for instance, is reportedly essential for sourcing software updates to devices. An Apple spokesperson, in response, told Ars Technica that the report had gotten the data collection principles wrong as Apple offers “transparency and control for personal information”, and “protections that prevent Apple from tracking user locations.”
The data collection on Android and iOS devices was measured on multiple accounts, including first startup following a factory reset, when a SIM was inserted or removed, when a handset remained idle, when the settings screen was viewed, when location was enabled or disabled on device, and when a user logged into a phone’s preinstalled app store. More details about the study can be accessed here.
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