Android takes 20x as much data as iPhones, study shows (Google refutes)
UPDATED: Following a weekend theme, fresh research claims Android handsets send 20x as much data back to Google as iPhones send to Apple, a remarkable illustration of the different privacy models of both ecosystems.
Take what you need
The report claims that both devices share data with their manufacturers every few minutes, even while the device is idle. However, the quantity of data being shared is very different.
- The Google Pixel collects and sends 1MB of data back to Google every 12-hours.
- Apple’s iPhone, on the other hand, sends a fraction of that information – just 52KB every 12 hours. The report claims the firms collect data every 4.5 minutes.
In other words, it would take an iPhone 135 days to share as much data with Apple as the Pixel sends to Google in one week.
This is an interesting reflection of Apple’s model for iPhone.
The company frequently says it builds its systems so they require minimal access to user data. Some information is required in order to make these things work, such as serial numbers and MAC addresses.
Other information isn’t. And the report (worryingly) observes that some of the data may be shared without giving users an opt out.
Google denies this
Speaking on background to Ars Technica, Google denied these claims, saying it raised its concerns with the study before its publication. The company claims the research methodology is flawed and that the claim that claims Android collects 20x more data than iPhone to be “off by an order of magnitude”.
“This research largely outlines how smartphones work. Modern cars regularly send basic data about vehicle components, their safety status and service schedules to car manufacturers, and mobile phones work in very similar ways. This report details those communications, which help ensure that iOS or Android software is up to date, services are working as intended, and that the phone is secure and running efficiently.”
What I find rather interesting here is that while arguing the claims to be off by “an order of magnitude”, Google doesn’t say what that means. So, do Android’s take three times as much data, four times, or some other number?
I think the public have a right to know.
What information is extracted?
The phone IMEI, hardware serial number, SIM serial number and IMSI, handset phone number etc are shared with Apple and Google. Both iOS and Google Android transmit telemetry, despite the user explicitly opting out of this.
When a SIM is inserted both iOS and Google Android send details to Apple/Google. iOS sends the MAC addresses of nearby devices, e.g. other handsets and the home gateway, to Apple together with their GPS location. Currently there are few, if any, realistic options for preventing this data sharing, the report claims.
While it is evident that a certain quantity of data is collected, it does feel rather unusual that the research doesn’t seem to fully explain the difference in the extent of information taken by the two firms.
After all, we know Apple to be deeply committed to personal privacy. Apple CEO, Tim Cook recently promised:
“We’ve spoken out, time and again, for strong encryption without backdoors, recognising that security is the foundation of privacy.
“We’ve set new industry standards for data minimisation, user control and on-device processing for everything from location data to your contacts and photos.”