Google has been collecting app usage data collected by Android phones for several years to develop and develop its own competing apps, according to a new report.
The project called Android Lockbox "collects confidential Android user data" for use in Google and, according to The Information, has been in force since at least 2013.
An internal team that tracks global usage of Google’s first-party apps "has also used Lockbox data for third-party apps to show executives how Google services perform against competitors," Sources told The Information. The data was used earlier this month in India, where Google was planning to launch a competitor app for TikTok.
The information is collected via Google Mobile Services, the collection of apps and APIs such as Google, Chrome, Gmail, Google Drive and Google Maps, which are normally preinstalled with Android.
Google informed The Information that it accesses usage data for apps from other Android developers, but only via an API, which has also been available to third-party developers since 2014. The API gives developers access to information about phones with their apps installed, but Google has a much broader view of the broad pool of all Android phones worldwide.
A representative from Google told The Information: "The API does not receive information about in-app activities and our collection of this data is disclosed to and can be controlled by users, but did not comment on how Google did this or other data used for research purposes. " or develop competitors to other apps.
If the allegations of the information are accurate, the antitrust authorities will likely have many questions for Google.
As we explained here at Ars, antitrust law is not just about monopolies. It's also about a variety of behaviors that are considered anti-competitive by law. It is one of those anti-competitive behaviors that you use your power as one of the largest companies in the world to pressure startups that may ultimately become viable. Serious competitors are one of those anti-competitive behaviors, and regulators don't like it.
Four of the largest U.S. technology companies – Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, and Facebook – are currently under a variety of state, federal, and international cartel reviews and are investigating whether, and if so, to what extent, these companies have grown and maintained their market power through underhanded, unlawful tactics.
Facebook, in particular, was checked to see whether data on competitors was used almost exactly as the new Google report accuses it. The social giant used a purchased VPN called Onavo to redirect traffic through Facebook servers, where it could be logged and analyzed. With this data, Facebook was able to determine which competition apps were becoming more popular, so that these start-ups could either be bought up or competitors started.
One of these competitors was Snapchat. Reports emerged last fall that Snap had for several years kept a dossier called Project Voldemort, which documented Facebook's attempts to purchase it first, and later, after the acquisition had failed, to copy Snapchat's key features .
It is widely believed that U.S. investigators are investigating how Apple can use data from the iOS app store to inform its own software development. The EU is also considering how Apple privileges its first-party apps after Spotify filed a complaint against the company last year.