Google reportedly hid privacy settings on Android, urged OEMs to do the same

Google Pixel 5 front

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority
  • Newly unredacted court documents reveal the steps Google has taken to maintain access to location data.
  • Google purportedly buried privacy settings deeper within Android’s settings menu and pressured OEMs to do the same.
  • Employees also took issue with the inability to use location data in a third-party app without Google gaining this info.

Google made a number of privacy-related announcements at Google I/O earlier this month, such as a new privacy dashboard on Android and the quick-fire ability to delete the last 15 minutes of your web browsing activity. But recently unearthed court documents have revealed that Google actually made it tougher for Android users to find popular privacy settings.

Unredacted court documents spotted by Insider show that Google tested versions of Android that made privacy settings easier to find. When users started taking advantage of these easier-to-find settings, Google purportedly viewed it as a “problem” and buried these privacy settings deeper within the platform’s settings menu.

The documents also show Google collected location data even when users turned off these settings, and that it pressured Android OEMs such as LG and others to hide popular privacy settings because people used them.

Discontent within Google

Google’s privacy moves were also viewed in a negative light by some employees, with at least one employee lambasting the fact that a user can’t get their own location without also giving that information to Google.

“Fail #2: *I* should be able to get *my* location on *my* phone without sharing that information with Google (sic),” an employee was quoted as saying. The employee said this could be how Apple is “eating our lunch,” adding the iPhone maker was “much more likely” to let people use location-based apps and services without giving that information to Apple itself.

“So there is no way to give a third-party app your location and not Google?” another employee was quoted as saying. “This doesn’t sound like something we would want on the front page of the (New York Times).”

Former Google Maps executive Jack Menzel also highlighted the extent of Google’s thirst for location data. He noted during a deposition that the only way Google couldn’t figure out a user’s home and work location was if the user set their home and work as other random locations instead.

The documents seem to suggest that Google’s recent privacy push isn’t done entirely out of the goodness of its heart. Do you think Google is doing a good job of privacy on Android though? Let us know by voting in the poll above.

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