Posted by Matt Egan 04 August 2014
Concerned about privacy? Avoid Android (and the internet itself)
If you care deeply about privacy you really shouldn't use Android. But then you should also avoid Google Search. And the internet. (See also: The hidden cost of moving to Google.)
A reader took me to task recently for saying in a Lumia vs Moto E comparison review that, unlike Windows Phone, Android harvests your personal data in order to sell it to advertisers. In a sense the reader was correct: Google doesn't pass on your name and personal data to third parties. It doesn't sell data to anyone, and it collects anonymous data on individuals. But when providing buying advice on Android devices I think it is valid to point out the implications of use of a Google device. (You can see the original article, and the comments, here: Lumia 520 vs Motorola Moto E comparison review: best cheap smartphones you can buy in the UK in 2014.)
There was a time when iPhone and iPad ruled all, and Android was a poor relation. That is no longer the case. Recent versions of Android are every bit as intuitive, feature rich and good looking as is iOS. And because of the unique way that Android is open to manufacturers there is a broader range of Android phones and tablets than are available on any other platform. The app- and media support is incredible. Android is great.
Personally, I have used multiple Android devices and will continue to do so. But there is no escaping the fact that Android uses your data in a more aggressive way than either Windows Phone or iOS. Or BlackBerry for that matter. (See also: Citizen Myth: Android users 'ignorant' over platform's 'broken' security model.)
Google is an advertising business. It builds up an anonymised picture of users based on their use of Google tools from search to Gmail to calendar to Google+. Any time you use a Google service, that data is being put to use to increase ad sales volume. And with Android it ties in all of those things with personal data such as location and purchase history.
It doesn't sell that data to advertisers - that would be a bad business decision. If Google gave away its data it would lose its competitive advantage. But it does rent this information, in the sense that advertisers can target Google ads at users based on all of this data.
Personally I have no problem with what Google does, and I expect that it is inevitable that in time Apple and Microsoft will follow suit. We web users are all trained to expect something for nothing (up front), and in the longer term unless there is a significant backlash against data-driven advertising I don't see how rival companies can compete without getting involved. (Apple, for instance, does harvest the data, or at least reserve the right to do so. It just doesn't use it as Google does.)
However, right now this is a valid consideration for purchasers: if you are someone who cares deeply about privacy, you really shouldn't use Android. But then not should you use Google Search, any kind of web mail or - frankly - the internet. (See also: Calculating the true cost of your phone, tablet or laptop.)