Android Privacy: Control how much data Google collects

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Last updated on July 16th, 2018 at 09:16 pm

Knowledge of digital security and digital privacy is imperative today as more and more people get hooked with personal devices – Android being the top runner.

Privacy and convenience are inversely related. The more convenient it is to use something, the less secure will it be. So protecting your privacy on one hand means making some trade-offs with certain conveniences on the other hand.

De-Googleing can be defined as removing Google from many aspects of your life and thereby restricting the amount of data they collect about you.

So what does Google track using your Android phones?

  • Every place you have been based on your phone’s GPS
  • A log of the apps you have installed and uninstalled on your phone using Play Store
  • Personal messages and calls made using the cellular network
  • Your voice searches using Ok Google or Google Now
  • Your text searches
  • All your emails (if you are using Gmail)

All these information put together can turn out to be a gold mine for advertising or for exploitation.

Do not associate your Android phone with a Google account

Contrary to the general perception, Android phones can be used without a Google account. When you have an account associated with your Android phone, you make it easier for them to profile you. If there is an email associated with your Android device, all the collected data can be profiled as your data. Law enforcement agencies, hackers or just anyone from Google can get access to data on where you have traveled, who you have called/messaged, what you have searched etc.

The biggest inconvenience is that you cannot install apps from Play Store if there is no Google account associated with your Android device. The alternative to using Play store is to install apps from the original app package called APK (Android Package Kit).

  • Allow your phone to install apps from unknown sources (settings->security->enable ‘allow unknown sources’). This is a one time setting, meaning  you need not do this every time you want to install an apk.
  • Search for an APK on Google (eg, Whatsapp apk, Amazon apk). Download it from a  trusted website like apkmirror.com or apkpure.com
  • Once the download completes, just tap on the file, allow permissions and it will install itself automatically.

You can find video tutorials on installing using apks on YouTube.

Updating the apps without Play Store is a pain. As mentioned earlier, taking care of privacy means trading off your convenience.

Protect your privacy using alternatives to Google services

Now this is an extremely inconvenient thing to do.

Android powered phones come with many free Google apps ready to use, thus compelling new users to start using Google services making it even more easier for Google to track us. Well, trade your convenience for privacy and go ahead and install alternatives as follows –

  • Google Play Store – APKs or Uptodown app
  • Gmail – Use Protonmail (end to end encrypted email)
  • Google Play Music – Any other music player
  • Google Drive – Mega (mega.nz)
  • Chrome – Firefox or Puffin

Google Now – The Art of Privacy Snooping

Google Now or the Google Assistant is supposed to detect you say ‘Ok Google’ and search for it the phrase the user says next.

An investigation by The Sun found that at times Google Now starts recording your voice when you just say ‘Ok’ instead of ‘Ok, Google Now’ – a mis-detection. The recording lasts upto approx 10-20 seconds and it gets uploaded to the Google servers.

What’s the problem? Imagine how many times do you say the word ‘Ok’ in your daily conversations; and each time you say it, the conversation gets recorded and uploaded however personal it is.

The creepiest part is that Google saves all Google Now recordings in their servers, profiled under you. Google says that these recordings help Google Assistant improve their language recognition algorithms. Yeah, whatever it means!

The problem is that Google engineers may have access to these recordings. If such a case, or if anyone hacks to your account, there is an ample lot of voices searches and even personal conversations (mis-detected and recorded) to listen to and exploit.

The so called free products

Google’s business is advertising; specifically target advertising. It is an extremely profitable business – so profitable that Google can spend billions of dollars on research and development of amazing products and give it for free.

No products are free in the true sense. If you are not buying these products with cash, you’re buying it with something else – your personal data.

Personal data collected over a period of time, put together intelligently can give a mirror image of you. Such information is creepy, can and has been misused in advertising, hacking, social engineering and what not!

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