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Android Data Harvesting

Android is a fairly nice OS for mobile devices. While I think parts of the OS itself are a mess, it does it’s job and does it well. Even looks good for the most part.

My biggest problem with android, it is a data collection point for Google, and they push this to the extreme. Information collection is their business, make no mistake. I have for you today a simple example of this.

If you use google maps, the application wants you to enable what Google calls “High Accuracy” mode. This allows the device to use GPS, cellular signal and WiFi signal to determine your location. This of course requires that the device ask someone what cell towers and WiFi APs are where. Google happily keeps a database of this information, and when you allow the service to run it adds what it sees I am sure.

Position can be most accurately derived in mobile devices using GPS. There are of course exceptions to this in such cases where say GPS does not work (indoors, a basement), the GPS is junk (Galaxy S, ala Vibrant) or the device simply does not have a GPS. Aside from that, GPS is the best and most accurate method. So if I have a valid 3D fix from my GPS why use the other data? Because they can’t collect it if you don’t, you are the collection point. The only other means of gathering this data for them is the Street View cars which collects it along with other data (shame on them by the way…).

To encourage users to participate, they break things, warn users and whatever else to get you to turn it on. As a simple example try the following (based on Android 5.0.2):

  1. Go to “Settings”
  2. Scroll down to “Location” and select it
  3. Tap on “Mode” and select “Device only”
  4. Exit from settings
  5. Start Google “Maps”
  6. It should center on your current location. This confirms your device has a good position fix.
  7. Zoon out, and move away from your present position
  8. Press the icon to center on your position :
  9. You should be presented with a dialog similar to the one below, asking you to enable the “High Accuracy” mode:
    Shame on you Google
  10. Click cancel and enjoy the app not moving to your current position

At this point we know the position data is valid and the device knows where it is. This is just another move by Google to ensure you are giving them what they want, what they designed android to get for them. An easy step to re-validate things is exit (fully) maps and start it back up, it should again move to your current position. Best of all, note the second statement under “Learn more”.

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