Google Abruptly Stops Android Phone Data Service Globally Offered To Carriers Possibly Due To Security, Privacy And Regulator Concern?

Google has shut down an important service that kept a watch on a telecom carrier’s network weak spots. The service is being shuttered globally. The search giant stopped the Android Phone Data Service perhaps due to concerns about inviting scrutiny by regulators and other potential privacy issues. Google apparently chose not to officially caution parties that relied on the service, and as such, has disappointed many telecom companies.

Google’s parent company Alphabet recently decided to end an important service that it provided major telecommunications and mobile network service providers. The service was reportedly used extensively by carriers to investigate issues about their wireless network. Google’s Android Phone Data Service is now offline across the globe primarily because Alphabet could be increasingly concerned about the rising overwatch by privacy advocates. Continued deployment of the same could invite unwarranted attention from regulators or scrutiny of users.

Google Shuts Down Mobile Network Insights Service Globally, Disappointing Telecom Service Providers:

Google launched the Mobile Network Insights service in March 2017. The service relied on smartphones that run on Android OS. The service gathered extensive data about multiple aspects of mobile and wireless networks which the Android devices hopped on. Google collated and analyzed the data and turned the same into a simple to understand map that visually indicated carriers’ signal strengths and connection speeds that were being delivered in each area. The data was obtained from the Android operating system which currently powers about 75 percent of the world’s smartphones. Needless add, data gathered from such a vast and active array of devices scattered throughout the world made it a very valuable resource for the telecom industry.

Surprisingly, Google has been offering the Mobile Network Insights service to telecom service providers for free. The service was extensively used by carriers and vendors that helped them manage operations. In other words, many companies dug through the data and attempted to find important and valuable insights which could help telecommunications spot weak spots. Moreover, carriers could use the data to optimize the deployment of their service, including erecting additional cell towers or mobile towers to address congestion.

Incidentally, the Google Mobile Network Insights service used data only from users who had opted into sharing location history, usage, and diagnostics with Google. The data was aggregated. In other words, the data ensured the anonymity of the users. No piece of information could be directly linked back to any individual phone user. However, it did include data relating to a carrier’s own service and that of competitors, which were not identified by name.

Why Did Google Shut Down The Android Phone Data Service?

The Android Phone Data Service or Mobile Network Insights Service never exposed any particular users. However, Google appears to be concerned about the increasing scrutiny by privacy advocates. Several tech companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, etc. are already under the increasing purview of the regulators. Quite a few have been in the midst of some major controversies about the use of user data.

Interestingly, some insiders, reportedly with direct knowledge of the matter, claimed Google was also concerned about secondary issues which included challenges ensuring data quality and connectivity upgrades among carriers being slow to materialize. Although Google has acknowledged the shutting down of the Android Phone Data Service, the company hasn’t been forthcoming about details. Google spokeswoman Victoria Keough said, “We worked on a program to help mobile partners improve their networks through aggregated and anonymized performance metrics. We remain committed to improving network performance across our apps and services for users.”

Google has reportedly informed telecom carriers about shutting down the Mobile Network Insights Service but did not offer a reason. Still, it is amply clear that Google has opted to end a data-sharing service rather than risk a likely breach or scrutiny from regulators in the future. Incidentally, Google reportedly shut down its Video Checkup service from its YouTube operation allegedly for similar reasons. The service let customers in Malaysia compare their provider’s streaming capability in a specific spot with other carriers. YouTube maintained the closure of the service was due to “relatively low user engagement”.

Quite recently, Facebook agreed to a major overhaul of its policies about privacy and user data. The company even agreed to long-term scrutiny by regulators to ensure it was strictly complying to the policies enacted to protect user privacy. Even more tech companies that aren’t being reviewed, are expected to get more stringent with their policies owing to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation which was introduced last year. The EU’s GDPR policy strictly prohibits companies from sharing user data with third parties without users’ explicit consent or a legitimate business reason.

Data-sharing has become a highly profitable business for social media companies and other tech service providers that have access to a vast and dedicated user base. However, concerns about user data, privacy, and confidentiality have increased too.


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