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Google stops sending Android cell signal data over privacy concerns

It didn't want to raise concerns among users or officials.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
August 19, 2019
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REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Google's increased focus on privacy led it to quietly drop a service for carriers. Reuters sources have learned the tech giant shut down Mobile Network Insights, a feature that gave providers maps of cellular signal strength and speed data collected from Android phones, back in April. The data was anonymized and required opting in to sharing location, usage and diagnostic info, but Google was reportedly worried the practice might raise hackles among users and government regulators.

Mobile Network Insights had only launched in March 2017, but was apparently valuable to providers. Although they do have other ways of gauging network quality, Google's feature was helpful precisely because of the sheer number of Android phones in the field. A telecom could get real-world usage stats from the phone's software.

A Google spokeswoman confirmed the end to Insights in a statement to Reuters, but would only say that it was due to "product priorities." The shutdown didn't include a reason, according to the insiders. Facebook continues to run a similar service, Actionable Insights, that also includes anonymous demographics. The social network suggested it intended to keep the program running, explaining in a statement that it "carefully designed" Actionable Insights to safeguard privacy.

While Google clearly took precautions as well, it's not shocking that the company would cut off data sharing like this. The firm is already facing intense scrutiny over its practices, including alleged GDPR violations and antitrust investigations. It might not have wanted to take even the slightest chance of coming under fire for its data gathering practices lest it face another backlash.

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