Google cleared of ACCC case – not snooping without consent

Google has been cleared of any malfeasance in the ACCC case that alleged it had misled Android users over the scope of its use and collection of personal data.

We need to segue a little. Alphabet Inc owns Google, among many other commercial operations.

  • Calico: Human health (by overcoming aging)
  • CapitalG: Private equity for growth-stage technology companies
  • DeepMind: Artificial intelligence
  • Google: Internet services
  • Google Fibre: Internet access: via fibre
  • GV: Venture capital for technology companies
  • Intrinsic: Robotics software
  • Isomorphic Labs: Drug discovery
  • Verily: Human health
  • Waymo: Autonomous driving
  • Wing: Drone-based delivery of freight
  • X Development: Research and development for ‘moonshot’ technologies

It has also bought dozens of companies to incorporate their technology into Google services. For example, Photos uses Picasa as its image organiser, and Maps uses Waze GPS technology. Google Assistant speakers evolved from its Nest acquisition.

It provides Google Android, Android Auto, Google TV, Google Wear, YouTube, and much more for free or low-cost. This all takes money.

How does Google make money?

Oberlo has a good article on this but suffice it to say that advertisements on Google Search and YouTube generated 81.5% (US$209.5 billion) in 2021. Its Apps and hardware (Pixel, Watch, Nest, Chromecast) generated about 10.9% and the rest (7.5%) from its cloud hosting.

Google gathers information about you from Android, Search, Maps, Assistant and more. It aggregates this data into your Google Account profile (that you have total control over) and anonymises that to be able to deliver focused adverts. For example, Maps can show places to eat, visit, park, get fuel, tourism, etc. (these are advertisements).

Does Google sell your data?

Google isn’t a data broker – your data is not for sale. Google will only share your data if you give them consent or a legitimate government request (usually for law enforcement).

But Google monetises anonymised data but offers to target advertising based on demographics, interests, geo boundaries, technology in use (mobile, desktop, iOS, Android) and more. For example, they could target all the left-handed Volvo drivers who play golf at various clubs to sell them left-handed clubs and Volvo-appropriate hats😁.

Can you trust Google?

Google’s model is trustworthy to the extent that it has never hidden its business model or its intentions – to make money and serve us simultaneously are complementary.

About 72% of people use Google Android. You already do, and depending on your privacy settings and the use of Ad-blockers and Cookie-blocking browsers, you may never see a Google advertisement.

Google is a big target for the ACCC and every other Global government and occasionally is pilloried by obscure laws. On the whole, lawsuits tend to be allegations that it abuses its dominant position to favour its own business and exclude competitors.

In that respect, it is no different from Apple in its ecosystem (28% Apple iOS). The critical difference is that Google’s Android-based ecosystem is open and not a walled garden controlled by one company.

Back to the ACCC case – Google is in the clear

It relates to June 2016, when Google introduced changes which, if a consumer clicked ‘I agree’ in response to the notification, allowed Google to combine personal information in consumers’ Google accounts with information about their activity on non-Google sites that used Google technology (formerly called DoubleClick technology) to display ads.

The Court found that the notification and the changes to the privacy policy were not misleading because Google sought the consent of account holders to implement the changes and only implemented the steps with their informed consent. The Court also noted that Google did not reduce account holders’ rights under the privacy policy.

We should be thankful for the ACCC and its efforts to protect our privacy. So, it got it wrong this time.

Privacy is the biggest issue facing humanity.

Privacy is the single greatest issue facing western humanity. We must not let COVID or environmental issues cloud this. We must not drop the ball because unless we act now, the world as we know it will soon be gone. Strong words, but we need stronger actions.

The problem is the collection of our data in the first place. We are long overdue for legislation that a) enables a unique transactional digital token (backed by biometrics or MFA) to verify who we are for online transactions (un-hackable) and b) legislate to delete the tonnes of data already collected.

Google has tightened up Android, but the nefarious data-harvesting Apps like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Zoom, TikTok, and many others vacuum your personal data up from your phone, contacts, photos and other sources you need to worry about.

More reading

Apple talks big about privacy, but it doesn’t apply to Apple’s Apps

How to minimise the risk of smartphone snooping (Android privacy tips guide…