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  1. Google reportedly peeks into Android data to gain edge over third-party apps Google is already under investigation by Congress, DOJ, and 50 state AGs. Enlarge Aurich Lawson / Getty Images 37 with 31 posters participating, including story author Google for several years has collected app-usage data collected from Android phones to develop and advance its own competing apps, a new report alleges. The project, called Android Lockbox, "collects sensitive Android user data" for use within Google and has been in effect since at least 2013, The Information reports. An internal team that tracks the worldwide usage of Google's first-party apps "also has used Lockbox data on third-party apps to show executives how Google services were performing compared to rivals," sources told The Information. The data was used earlier this month in India, where Google planned to roll out a competitor app to TikTok. The information is collected through Google Mobile Services, the collection of apps and APIs such as Google, Chrome, Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Maps that usually comes pre-installed with Android. Google told The Information that it does access usage data on other Android developers' apps but only through an API that has also been available to third-party developers since 2014. While the API grants developers access to information about phones on which their apps are installed, however, Google has much wider insight into the broad pool of all Android phones globally. A Google representative told The Information, "The API doesn't obtain any information about in-app activity and our collection of this data is disclosed to and controllable by users" but did not comment on how Google uses that or any other data to research or develop competitors to other apps. Sound familiar? If The Information's allegations are accurate, antitrust regulators are likely to have a whole lot of questions for Google. As we here at Ars have explained before, antitrust law isn't just about monopolies. It's also about a broad bucket of behaviors that are considered anticompetitive under the law. Using your power as one of the biggest companies in the world to put the squeeze on startups who could eventually become viable, serious competitors is one of those anticompetitive behaviors, and regulators don't like it. Four of the biggest US tech firms—Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, and Facebook—are all under a bevy of state, federal, and international antitrust probes at this moment, investigating whether—and, if so, to what extent—those companies grew and maintained their market power through underhanded, unlawful tactics. Facebook in particular has been scrutinized for using data on competitors in almost exactly the way the new report accuses Google of doing. The social giant used a VPN it acquired, called Onavo, to redirect traffic through Facebook servers, where it could be logged and analyzed. That data let Facebook see what competition apps were growing in popularity so that it could then either buy out those start-ups or launch competitors. One of those competitors was Snapchat. Last fall, reports surfaced that Snap for several years kept a dossier, called Project Voldemort, documenting Facebook's attempts first to acquire it and later, after acquisition didn't work, to copy Snapchat's key features. US investigators are also widely assumed to be probing the way in which Apple can leverage data from the iOS App Store to inform its own software development. The EU is also probing the way Apple privileges its first-party apps after Spotify last year filed a complaint against the company. Google reportedly peeks into Android data to gain edge over third-party apps
  2. Facebook has been fined almost £9m by Italian authorities for misleading users about how it used their data. Italy’s competition watchdog handed the social media giant two fines totalling €10m (£8.9m), the first for “misleadingly” encouraging people to sign up “without informing them in an immediate and adequate way” of how their data would be sold to third parties. The second fine was for “aggressively” discouraging users from trying to limit how the company shared their personal information, by telling them that doing so risked them experiencing “significant limitations”. The fine dwarfs the £500,000 fine imposed on the social network by the British Information Commissioner’s Office earlier this year for breaking data laws. Italy’s AGCM consumer and market watchdog also said in a statement that Facebook does not make clear to users that the social network makes money from data, “simply stressing the fact that it’s free”. It ordered Facebook to publish a “corrective statement” to all users on the desktop site and mobile apps. The data at the centre of the ruling was harvested from a personality quiz app downloaded by hundreds of thousands of people in Italy. As permitted by Facebook’s rules at the time, the app gathered details about users’ Facebook friends without their knowledge. The data was then allegedly used by British firm Cambridge Analytica, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and is now facing damages claims totalling more than £40bn from Facebook users whose personal information was allegedly misused by the firm. Professor David Carroll told the High Court in London he was suing the company for up to £20,000 in damages under the Data Protection Act, over what his solicitor described as "Cambridge Analytica's misuse of his data". Prof Carroll's solicitor, Ravi Naik of ITN Solicitors, said in a witness statement he represented "numerous others" bringing similar claims against the company. Prof Carroll "has a claim of between £5,000 and £20,000 in respect of Cambridge Analytica's misuse of his data", Mr Naik said, and referred to Facebook's estimate that Cambridge Analytica had harvested up to 87 million users' data. "Even if one conservatively uses the lowest end of the range, both in number and value of each claim, and calculates on the basis of 10 per cent of the estimated 87 million affected Facebook users only, with claims of £5,000 each against Cambridge Analytica, that still implies a total potential claim value of £43.5bn," he said. Of the Italian fine, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We are reviewing the authority’s decision and hope to work with them to resolve their concerns. “This year we made our terms and policies clearer to help people understand how we use data and how our business works. We also made our privacy settings easier to find and use, and we’re continuing to improve them. You own and control your personal information on Facebook.” Source
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