Android phones and iPhones share data with their respective companies on average every 4½ minutes, and the data is sent back even when idle in a pocket or purse, according to a new academic study.
Research from Trinity College Dublin has raised new concerns about smartphone privacy, and the research claims that there is little difference between Apple and Google when it comes to collecting certain data.
The study, which was published by Professor Doug Leith at Trinity’s Connect Center, claimed that iPhones offered no greater privacy than Google devices.
However, the study noted that Google phones collected “a markedly greater volume of phone data than Apple” with 1MB of data sent from idle Google Pixel phones every 12 hours, compared to 52KB sent from iPhone.
Among the data potentially returned by the phones is the insertion of a SIM card and phone details such as hardware serial number, IMEI, Wi-Fi MAC address, and phone number.
“I think most people accept that Apple and Google need to collect data from our phones to provide services like iCloud or Google Drive. But when we just use our phones as phones, to make and receive calls and nothing else, it is much more difficult to see why Apple and Google need to collect data, ”said Professor Leith.
“However, in this study we found that Apple and Google collect a large amount of information in precisely that situation. It seems excessive and it is difficult to see why it is necessary. “
Professor Leith said it was disappointing to see so much data collected by Apple in particular, as the company had talked a lot about user privacy in the past.
He said the devices not only collected data on phone activity, but also on nearby phones; When a user connects to a Wi-Fi network, the Wi-Fi MAC addresses of other devices on the network are sent to Apple.
“The WiFi MAC address identifies a device on a WiFi network and thus, for example, uniquely identifies your home router, coffee shop access point, or office network. That means Apple can potentially track which people you are around, as well as when and where. That is very worrying. ”
He said that users cannot opt out of data collection.
The research highlighted some major concerns about collecting such data, noting that device data could be linked to other data sources, including web browsing and shopping.
“This research describes how smartphones work,” said a Google spokesperson. “Modern cars regularly send basic data on vehicle components, their safety status and service programs to automakers, and mobile phones work in much the same way. This report details those communications, which help to ensure that the iOS or Android software is up-to-date, that the services are working as intended, and that the phone is safe and working efficiently. “
Apple has yet to comment on the study.