Alphabet and Google have secretly monitored, collected and misused the sensitive personal data of millions of Android users in an effort to get a leg up on competitors such as TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, a proposed class action says.
Filed August 5 in California federal court, the 31-page privacy lawsuit claims Google has employed an “internal secret program” called “Android Lockbox” to spy on Android smartphone users, with the defendants’ employees monitoring and collecting sensitive personal information whenever a user interacts with a non-Google app on their phone.
“In doing so, Google has foregone obtaining meaningful consent from consumers, like Plaintiff and Class Members,” the lawsuit alleges, “and has chosen to secretively monitor and collect users’ sensitive personal data for this undisclosed purpose.”
Highlighted in the lawsuit is a July 23, 2020 report from The Information in which the publication revealed Google “secretly monitors, collects, and otherwise misuses” Android users’ personal data through the Lockbox program. The case goes on to state Google, via a spokesperson in contact with The Verge, admitted the company has used the Android App Usage Data API since 2014 to tap basic app usage data, including how often apps are opened, purportedly to “analyze and improve services.”
Though Google claims its data monitoring practices are “authorized,” the company “does not disclose, nor seek consent, to monitor, collect or use” Android users’ smartphone data related to their use of non-Google apps, the complaint alleges. Moreover, the suit charges Google does not use the data it collects to analyze and improve services as the company claims.
“Rather, Google uses this information to obtain an unfair competitive advantage over its rivals,” the case asserts, claiming that YouTube, for instance, utilizes Android Lockbox to collect valuable user information in its pursuit of developing a competitor to TikTok in India.
Still further, while Google claims to have obtained consent to monitor and collect Android users’ data, the lawsuit alleges proposed class members “are only vaguely told” the company will be keeping tabs on their smartphone usage under the guise of offering a “more personalized experience.”
“This type of vague and ambiguous purported disclosure is deceptively misleading and insufficient for Plaintiff and Class members to understand, let alone consent to what Google is actually doing—spying on Android Smartphone users,” the plaintiff says.
The lawsuit, which was filed by a New York Google Pixel XL smartphone user, looks to represent all Android smartphone users from at least as early as January 1, 2014 through the present.
Per the suit, more than 2.5 billion consumers use a smartphone powered by Google’s Android operating system.
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