Google sued for using 260mb of cellular data per month to track Android users without permission

Posted on Nov 24, 2020 by Caleb Chen
Google sued for using 260mb of cellular data per month to track Android users without permission

Google is being sued by individuals that allege that the company uses cellular data without permission to send information back to Google. Google is facing a lawsuit that highlights just how much data (260mb) Google sends home about you and your Android device. These are all passive, background transfers that will happen even if the user doesn’t use their phone – merely leaves it on. 

The complaint detailed:

“Google designed and implemented its Android operating system and apps to extract and transmit large volumes of information between Plaintiffs’ cellular devices and Google using Plaintiffs’ cellular data allowances. Google’s misappropriation of Plaintiffs’ cellular data allowances through passive transfers occurs in the background, does not result from Plaintiffs’ direct engagement with Google’s apps and properties on their devices, and happens without Plaintiffs’ consent.”

Google uses your cellular data to track you for advertising purposes

Most people have their apps set to only update over WiFi to save the cellular data which usually has lower limits than WiFi connections. However, even if you set your apps to only work over WiFi, core Google apps and processes still interact with Google servers. This tracking happens in real time because that’s how it is most useful to Google’s monolithic ad service and real time bidding in general. Rules reining in this anti-privacy and anti-consumer behaviour at a legislative level can’t come soon enough.

The complaint further details that when you start using an Android phone, none of the terms and conditions that Google makes you accept covers this type of behavior. Even without worrying about the huge privacy ramifications of having your phone always phoning home to Google, 260mb of data per month works out to about $1 of cellular data that Google is “stealing” from the average customer.

This isn’t the first time that attention has been called to uncontrollable data transfers from phone companies. Estimates say that iOS sends about half of that data monthly. One other thing that the lawsuit brings up is that Google sends preloaded tokens that represent ads to Android mobile users, but these ads sometimes aren’t even loaded even though Google counts the impression. The lawsuit continued:

“Users often never view these pre-loaded ads, even though their cellular data was already consumed to download the ads from Google. And because these pre-loads can count as ad impressions, Google is paid for transmitting the ads.”

That means that Google could be on the hook for defrauding advertisers, as well. Google declined to comment to The Register on either aspect of the ongoing lawsuit.

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