Google’s Android Messages and Dialer Apps Got Caught Collecting User Data

Posted on March 22, 2022 by Laurent Giret in Google, Android with 28 Comments

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.

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Comments (28)

28 responses to “Google’s Android Messages and Dialer Apps Got Caught Collecting User Data”

  1. sherlockholmes

    lol, really? Surprise.

  2. red.radar

    They should be fined aggressively

  3. spiderman2

    scroogle? what a surprise /s

  4. sscywong

    Don't think this is surprising at all...

  5. Daishi

    I would if I could, but the system doesn’t let me. But this is the text copied from one I got 4 days ago:


    TV

    WeCrashed on Apple TV+

    Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway

    star. Watch the first episode free.


    Just imagine an Apple TV logo on the left and a picture of Leto and Hathaway in sunglasses on the right and you have the idea.


    I had quite a few of these over time. I got one for the start of Foundation, another for a new season of Ted Laso I think and a couple of others I don’t remember. Then there’s the periodic “get three months of Apple Music free” and the regular “you’re almost out of iCloud space. Get more now” to round out the set.

  6. kjb434

    Get a Pixel device, put GrapheneOS. A secure and harden Android OS with sandboxed Google Play Services. No Google apps pre-installed. Google cannot get root access as is default for other Android devices.


    Without the Google apps, things like this story doesn't happen.

  7. jollytiki

    At least Apple only shares data with Steve Jobs....

  8. anderb

    This is the same professor that published a paper that was very critical of Microsoft's Edge browser privacy and it was met with disbelief and derision when discussed here. I guess his credentials are ok now that he's being critical of Google's products.

    • Daishi

      Yeah, but that was 2020. Back when many of us were still trying to pretend that Microsoft weren’t just going full Google with that kind of stuff.


      I suspect that if the same analysis was published today even here most people would nod along and say “yep, that sounds about right for them”.

  9. spacein_vader

    This is a big GDPR fail which could be costly.


    But yes, in other news water is wet, the Pope is Catholic etc...

  10. red.radar

    I am sure it was just telemetry data to ensure the service was operating at the quality level their customers expect



    ooh look theirs a bridge for sale in NYC

  11. martinusv2

    Bad Google lol

  12. lvthunder

    It's the #1 reason I don't trust Google to be the OS of anything. I don't want a marketing company in control of the whole device.

    • miamimauler

      @Ivthunder


      Then that just leaves Apple then as Microsoft have been aggressively building their ad network for years now but few talk about it.

      Paul, to his credit, has been one of the few who have honestly been reporting on the growing ad influence in Windows and MS products/services in general.


      While MS have other revenue streams as opposed to Google it doesn't detract from the fact that MS are quickly becoming addicted to the sweet nectar of pushing ads.

      • Donte

        Yeah Apple who paid the CCP 275 billion to gain access to the Chinese market to include giving the CCP the iCloud encryption keys for the Apple data centers in China.


        Apple is the worst. They tout privacy all the time and sell out billions of people for profit.

      • Daishi

        Does it even leave Apple? I can’t speak for MacOS, but I get a pretty regular stream of Lock Screen ads for Apple services on my iPhone.

        • jason_e

          You are not getting lock screen ads from Apple. You might be getting notifications from the AppleTV app which is appropriate and if you do not want then either uninstall the app or turn off notifications.

        • MattBaker

          I've never seen, or heard of, a lock screen ad on my iPhone.


          My guess is, you're getting them from an app you installed.

          • Daishi

            I guess if by ‘apps I installed’ you mean Apple TV+, Apple Music or iCloud, then sure.

        • peterepete

          Care to post a screenshot of that? I’ve never heard of anyone having lock screen ads on an iPhone. I’ve used them since almost the beginning & never seen an ad. I’d like to see these ads you speak of.

        • miamimauler

          @Daishi


          Ok, I'm not an Apple user so wasn't aware of that. Everything I've read on many tech sites tells me Apple are, while far from perfect, much better than Google and to a lesser extent Microsoft.


          Out of curiosity, have you noticed ads in Apple apps/services increasing in recent times? Is this an industry wide issue where these companies are using Google as cover to build their own ad networks?

  13. anoldamigauser

    Google collecting data...shocked, I am shocked.


    "...the company is already planning to update both apps to better respect user privacy."

    How about, Google just respects user privacy? Better, compared to their current practice is a very low bar.

  14. feek

    This is written as though Google wasn’t aware that this was happening

  15. navarac

    For "Google", insert " all tech companies, worldwide, & Governments " as well.

  16. thretosix

    I'm curious though, is this needed for things like the quick reactions/replies? If so would turning this feature off stop the collection of data? The one thing that always seems to catch people off guard is how some of these things are used to improve your experience. This surely appears to be collecting way too much data than would be needed for just a quick reply.