Google collects more personal data about its users than any other big tech company, an analysis has found just days after Facebook petitioned the ACCC for an exemption from regulation because Apple’s privacy crackdown is costing it money and market share.
A deep analysis of the voluminous privacy policies of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Google by Security.org, collated and summarised by AtlasVPN, found that Google led the pack by collecting 39 different data points about each user.
This includes contact details such as name, phone number and email address as well as photographs, documents, spreadsheets, Youtube comments, search keywords, video views, details about oncoming and outgoing calls, and more.
Google also stores detailed data about the way you interact with online content and advertisements – a practice for which Facebook was targeted by Apple, which last year introduced an iOS privacy feature called App Tracking Transparency (ATT) that can block Facebook tracking in a change, that has proven extremely popular with users.
Twitter, by contrast, collects 24 data points – including what AtlasVPN data journalist Edward G. described as “very little personal information” beyond your name, phone number and email address – but also collects detailed data about your messages, videos you have watched, and interactions with content and advertisements.
Amazon was similar, with 23 data points collected – although this, the analysis noted, includes personal details like driver’s license and government identifiers, as well as sourcing data about many customers’ credit histories from third-party credit bureaus.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the company’s Cambridge Analytica fiasco – a data-harvesting exercise over which the Australian Information Commissioner is currently pursuing legal action – Facebook was found to have reined in its data collection, accumulating just 14 data points about its users.
That’s in line with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s assertions that Facebook is all about privacy now – yet this “extremely personal data”, AtlasVPN notes, includes records of the people you talk to, the groups you belong to, the comments you leave, and your private messages.
Apple, by contrast, came out as the tech giant least likely to be accumulating private data about its users, earning an A+ grade from Security.org for collecting just 12 data points including users’ names, email addresses, location, payment information, and search activity logging.
“Apple knows your search queries,” Edward G. noted, as well as “the time, frequency and duration of your activity – and that is basically it.”
Businesses like Google “base their whole business on data, so they collect everything under the sun,” he said, while “others, like Apple, earn most of their revenue from selling expensive hardware, which allows them to log only as much data as is necessary to uphold your account.”
A kinder, gentler Facebook?
The figures are illuminating not only because of the degree to which Google is profiling its users – earning its privacy policies a failing mark from Security.org – but because they confirm that it’s not necessary to hoard overbroad personal information to run a big tech company.
Facebook, in particular, has faced a reckoning over the last year since Apple’s release of ATT – and the company that built a fortune on trading in user data is now crying foul.
Building on recent claims that the ATT feature will cost it over $13 billion ($US10b) this year alone, Facebook has claimed the feature unfairly targets it but not Google – and in April it petitioned the ACCC to exempt it from mooted regulation designed to level the online-advertising playing field.
In a newly published response to the ACCC’s Digital Platform Services Inquiry (DPI) discussion paper – one of nearly 90 submissions received so far – Facebook owner Meta argued that “digital markets are dynamic and have evolved considerably since the DPI was announced in 2017”.
Existing “broad and flexible” competition and consumer laws had proven flexible enough to enable action against anti-competitive behaviour, Meta argued, and “there is no evidence that existing laws are not ‘fit for purpose’ to address any genuine competition or consumer protection concerns in the supply of digital platform services.”
Flagging Apple’s “emergence as a significant and rapidly growing competitor in the ads space” and the damage caused by the ATT feature, Meta also noted that Tik Tok’s ad revenue had tripled in 2021 while Amazon’s advertising business had grown at 32 per cent annually and tripled in Australia last year.
“Meta faces significant and growing competitive constraints which undermine any finding that it has substantial market power in ‘social media’,” the company argued, “especially when considering the increasing range of competitors in Australia.”
“There have been substantial recent shifts in data availability which further highlight that the Discussion Paper misunderstands and overstates the role and value of data in conferring market power.”
Given these market changes, Meta argues, Australian authorities are being “premature” to implement new regulations of digital markets “given the absence of consensus and the lack of evidence of effectiveness” worldwide.