The raging issue of user privacy has become a point of contention between two technology giants, Oracle Corp. (ORCL) and Alphabet Inc.’s Google (GOOGL). Oracle has alleged that Google’s Android mobile operating system silently allows Google to track and report the location of users, even when users have turned off their location services — and even when there is no SIM card in the mobile device. The recent accusation has led Australian competition and privacy regulators to launch an investigation against Google.
The Android phones relay the location of the nearby cell towers to Google, without the necessary consent given by the user, the allegation states. Even without a SIM card, the Wi-Fi feature of the Android phones would collect the cell tower data and transmit it to Google allowing it the necessary details of the user’s whereabouts.
While the allegations are not new — they first appeared in November of last year — the whistleblower was unknown then. Noted security researcher and the former chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Ashkan Soltani, had then opined through a tweet that Oracle may be the hidden source of the allegation: “After 5+ mo of lobbying @oracle managed to finally sell this important @google @android privacy story to the press.”
At that time, the allegations also mentioned the possible sale of location data to advertisers by Google, who could then serve contextual and location-specific ads to the user. A Google spokesperson had denied the alleged misuse of information, mentioning that the “location-data-harvesting system was separate from that one, being focused on messaging services,” as reported by Fortune. (See also: How Much Can Facebook Potentially Make from Selling Your Data?)
Oracle Complains to ACCC
Though Oracle did not admit to being the source of the story at that time, this recent instance is out in the open. Oracle has now openly reported the matter to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which is investigating the case. Fortune further reports that “Oracle also said Android devices sent Google detailed information on people’s searches and surfing.”
“We are exploring how much consumers know about the use of location data and are working closely with the Privacy Commissioner,” the ACCC said in a statement. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner said it was “making inquiries with Google.”
Fortune quoted Google’s response: “Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”
The feud between the two technology giants has a long history. In short, Oracle alleges that Google used certain programming code owned by Oracle in its Android system, a claim that Google denies. The two companies went to court, and the court ruled in Google’s favor, finding the use of code to be fair. (See also: Oracle Opts to Continue Legal Battle Over Android.)