Google’s Message and Phone apps for Android have been quietly collecting and sending user data about texts and calls to Google. This concerning state of fact has been revealed by a new research paper published by Douglas Leith, a computer science professor at Trinity College Dublin (via The Register).
The main issue here is that Google has been collecting data without telling users about it and without giving them an option to opt out, two things that don’t play well with the European Union’s strict GDPR rules. And according to the research paper, these two apps have been collecting much more than basic information about when messages or phone calls are made or received.
“The data sent by Google Messages includes a hash of the message text, allowing linking of sender and receiver in a message exchange. The data sent by Google Dialer includes the call time and duration, again allowing linking of the two handsets engaged in a phone call. Phone numbers are also sent to Google. In addition, the timing and duration of other user interactions with the apps are sent to Google,” the research paper reads.
According to the researcher, Google’s Messages and Dialer apps send data to Google via two channels, the Google Play Services Clearcut logger service and the Firebase Analytics. “The data sent goes beyond what is suggested by the Google Play Services support page and Google’s public statements,” Leith pointed out.
According to the Google Play Store, both the Google Messages and Dialer apps have been installed on comes preinstalled on over a billion Android devices. The research paper also highlighted that Google’s Messages app is now pre-loaded on recent Samsung, Xiaomi, and Huawei handsets, and it’s also the US carriers AT&T and T-Mobile are also pre-loading it on all of their Android phones.
While it’s possible to replace these apps with third-party apps on Android, most users aren’t going to do that, especially if Google doesn’t tell them that its own apps are collecting way too much data with no way to opt out. Anyway, the researcher said that he suggested Google to make some changes to its Messages and Dialer apps and that the company is already planning to update both apps to better respect user privacy.