I thought of it, my main focus was on major social problems with the high influence and an almost monopolistic market position of Google and its dominant product Android OS, an operating system for smartphones and other devices. Google is a custodian of vast treasure trove of data from a plethora of online services that it offers to consumers and businesses. First of all based on the potential for misuse, which is made possible by the extremely high data collection and the fact that illegal misuse of this data has already occurred several times in the past. So, yes, privacy can be one of the motives behind building a custom ROM among other things like getting updated software on your device or getting more features that you desire to use on your smartphone.
Potential is just unlimited with custom ROMs. Also, why should Google have all the fun? Android Open Source Project or AOSP is still an open project and playful cleverness should never stop even without Google’s own set of non-free or proprietary apps. We cannot just let Google force it upon it. It is time we change Android’s attitude that Google has pre-defined for us, i.e., ‘Look but do not touch’, kind of open.
Google basically acts carelessly and in certain cases completely inconsiderately when it comes to the personal data and in some cases also end devices of its users. Therefore, our goal should be to create an Android operating system without direct connection to Google’s server and Google’s own development i.e. Google Apps, libraries and APIs.
Situation and Problem
Data protection and the involuntary disclosure of personal data have become an important part of the public discussion over the last decade. Many different services collect all kinds of data about their customers, some to improve their product and some to benefit from the collected data. Smartphones now account for a large share of the use of certain online services world-wide. It is the most available and powerful hand-held Internet device today. It also holds almost all of your personal data including conversations, pictures, business information etc.
Android market position
In a survey conducted in August 2017, 81% of people in Germany said they used a smartphone at least occasionally. Smartphone penetration and users will continue with thrive, cheaper availability of robust devices with powerful specifications from Chinese Manufacturers are going lure more users in the market. According to data from Newzoo’s Global Mobile market report, in September of 2019, Germany had over 65 million and India had over 502m smartphone users respectively. According to Gartner, Inc., 87.7% of smartphones worldwide were using the Android operating system in 2017, making it the clear market leader ahead of the second most-used operating system iOS with a market share of 12.1%. The market for smartphone operating systems is thus almost completely dominated by these two giant from USA i.e. Google and Apple. Android itself is published by Google and is pre-installed on most devices before the end user even owns the device. As a result, Google has almost complete control over what functions the operating system performs and what data is collected from the device. Therefore it is essential that the operating system does not collect data excessively and does not misuse it.
Potential for data misuse
An accurate collection of personal data offers the possibility to use this data to identify the person whose data is collected in a specific environment. This, in turn, carries the risk that such data can be used to monitor people by authorities for certain undesirable behaviors and then discriminate or systematically discriminate against people based on this behavior.
Similar developments can already be observed in China today. Data protection is not a particular priority for the Chinese government, which is particularly evident in the introduction of so-called social credit systems. In these systems, legal but undesirable behavior is viewed negatively. As a result, access to vital resources and recreational opportunities can be restricted. For example, it is envisaged that a low rating due to rude behavior may in extreme cases be followed by loss of job.
Google data misuse
Smartphones today are able to record a wide range of personal data and use it for their functionality. A study conducted in 2018 by Vanderbilt University found that even an unused Android phone sent location information to Google’s server over 300 times a day. It is therefore essential that this data cannot be used to discriminate against its own population, as mentioned above. Google itself has shown in 2019 that a number of very specific personal data are often stored and analyzed unwanted by the Google Assistant, which is also integrated in Android. In the summer of 2019, the Belgian broadcaster VRT received voice recordings of the Google Assistant, which contain sensitive personal conversations and information that can be used to identify individuals to the bare minimum.
Google itself uses the collected data primarily for services like AdSense and Google Analytics. According to Google, Google Analytics is primarily offered to website operators in order to enable the operators to optimally align the offer to their users. Google’s AdSense tool is used to create ads for a wide range of websites that are suitable for the target group. According to the parent company Alphabet, approximately 80% of the annual income of its subsidiary Google comes from this same advertising revenue.
Nevertheless, even with these large sources of income, the Group often abuses the rights of their users. In September 2019, the YouTube website, which is also operated by Google, was the trigger for a fine imposed on Google by the U.S. FTC and the State of New York. The company had to pay a total of $170 million for illegally collecting data from children under the age of 13 using YouTube (Guardian, 2019). This data was then used to create user profiles and use them to target advertising to children, which is illegal under U.S. child privacy laws.
In addition, Google has proven in the past that hardware dependent on their servers can be easily disabled and thus rendered unusable. The Smarthome system Revolv was purchased by Google in 2014 and its technology was integrated into Google’s own Smarthome system called “Nest”. As a result, in 2016 the entire system, which was operated exclusively via Google’s servers, was completely shut down. The already sold units became completely unusable, because they did not work without a server connection and customers stood there with useless Revolv Home systems.
This shows that Google with its products definitely collects personal data, which can be related to specific persons and, according to its own information, also has it checked and evaluated. Such a collection of data could easily be used for purposes such as the aforementioned social credit system, for example, and thus be used to discriminate against certain segments of the population. In addition, the Group has in the past already completely shut down systems dependent on its servers, which meant that users could no longer use their devices. Therefore, it is essential to separate the use of smartphones from companies that have been proven to be careless or even illegal in their handling of personal data and unavoidable server connections in order to guarantee personal data protection.