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Monday, 14 May 2018 11:02

Google using Australians' mobile data to spy on them: claim Featured

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Oracle has upped its spat with Google, providing research to Australia's competition watchdog that claims the search behemoth is using the mobile data of Australians to spy on them.

A news.com.au report said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was investigating Oracle's allegations that data worth as much as $580 million was being used by Google to secretly track Australians' activities.

The Oracle researchers said Google was using about 1GB of data from the accounts of Android phone users, snooping on users silently and collecting data for advertising purposes. They made the disclosures to the ACCC as part of the digital platforms inquiry being conducted by the organisation.

Open enmity between Oracle and Google stretches back to 2010 when the database giant sued the search engine behemoth shortly after it purchased Sun Microsystems and became the owner of Java, claiming that Google had violated its copyright and patents.

After many twists and turns in the case, Oracle recently won an appeal, entitling it to claim damages. The case has been sent back to a trial to determine the amount that Google has to pay for its infringement. But before that happens, Google is likely to appeal the verdict.

The report worked out the cost of the data by calculating that one GB of data costs between $3.60 and $4.50 and multiplying that by 10 million, the number of Australians who own Android phones.

It said the Oracle experts had claimed that the snooping went on even if the mobile had no SIM or if aeroplane mode was on. Only switching off the phone stopped the snooping.

Among the data gathered were barometric pressure readings to determine the height at which an individual was, in order to work out if one was at a certain floor of a shopping complex. This, when combined with location co-ordinates, would allow Google to work out which shops the user had visited, which meant store visits could be tied to viewing online ads.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims was quoted in the report as saying his people were looking into the Oracle claims.

He said the information was "extremely interesting".

“The more we get into this inquiry the more we realise there are lots of issues (around) competition and privacy,” he added.

The report said a Google spokesman had refused to answer specific questions, without detailing what the queries were. But it said the spokesman had claimed that users could see what data was collected if they went to the My Account tab in Settings and they could also control it.

He added that one could choose not to opt in to location sharing and claimed Oracle’s presentation was “sleight of hand”.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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