Google uses Android to track its rivals apps: Report
In a major shocker, a report from The Information has revealed that Google uses Android to track the applications offered by its rivals. The company, according to the outlet's sources, gathers data around the usage and growth of these third-party services and then, in some cases, uses that information to gain a competitive advantage. Here's all you need to know about it.
Case of apps competing with Google on its platform
Today, millions of applications thrive on Android, covering categories ranging from gaming to payments and music-streaming. Some of these are native products that Google offers as part of the platform, while the remaining are third-party services offered by independent companies/developers. This means that those in the latter group have to go against Google's products on Google's platform if they fall in the same category.
Google uses this to its advantage
In a recent investigation, The Information found that Google leverages its ownership of Android to carry out market/competition research and guide its own product decisions. The outlet obtained internal documents detailing Android Lockbox, a several years old effort under which the company gathers "sensitive data" on non-Google apps and their usage through Android and then employs that information to define its path forward.
What kind of information does Google get?
Going by the report, Google gets a lot of valuable information using Android Lockbox, starting from how frequently an app is opened and for how long it is opened (both measures of engagement) to location data for aggregate growth of a particular service in a particular region. Notably, the data is taken with users' permission and anonymized to remove names and other identifiable details.
Comparisons can also be made
Speaking to people familiar with the matter, the outlet learned that the Android Lockbox data has also been used for the purpose of app-to-app comparisons. The people claimed that Google's Magic Eye team, which tracks the usage of the company's own apps, used this data to show senior executives how exactly the company's services were doing against those from their rivals.
Which apps' usage has been tracked through Lockbox?
Lockbox has been used to track the usage of TikTok and similar apps as well as Facebook, Instagram, and Gmail's competitors to guide business decisions. But, we suspect that more apps will be on the list, given that the tool has been active since 2013.
What does Google say on the matter?
Google, in response, said that it collects usage data from third-party apps to "analyze and improve services." "The API doesn't obtain any information about in-app activity and our collection of this data is disclosed to and controllable by users," a Google spokesperson stated. However, the representative did not comment on how this data is used by Google to research apps and compete with them.
Other developers also have this API
Google also noted in its statement that this API is publicly available to other developers and can give them the same type of data — only in less quantity as it would work for only those devices which have their apps installed.