A study conducted at Trinity College Dublin has revealed that a range of popular Android mobile devices engage in significant data collection and sharing.
The Android mobile phones then share the data with Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Facebook as no opt-out is available to users.
Professor Doug Leith at Trinity College Dublin and Doctor Paul Patras and Haoyu Liu of the University of Edinburgh examined the data sent by six variants of the Android OS developed by Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, Realme, LineageOS and /e/OS.
The research found that even when the mobile is idle, except for e/OS, they transmit “substantial amounts” of information to the OS developer and to third parties that have pre-installed system apps.
Occasional communication with OS services is expected in the majority of phones, but the study states the transmission of information goes well beyond this and raises privacy concerns.
The phones examined, with the exception of e/OS, collect a list of the apps installed on the device.
The Xiaomi handset sends data revealing what apps are viewed by the user back to Xiaomi. This can include when and for how long each app is used daily and can tell the timing and duration of phone calls.
The Huawei handset’s Swiftkey keyboard sends information regarding app usage to Microsoft. This shows when a user writes a text, uses the search bar, or searches for contacts.
Samsung, Xiaomi, Realme and Google collect long-lived device identifiers, such as the hardware serial number, alongside user-resettable advertising identifiers.
Apps such as Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Facebook are usually pre-installed on devices at the time of purchase and silently collect data in the background without offering users an option to opt-out.
Professor Leith told The Irish Times: “I think we have completely missed the massive and ongoing data collection by our phones, for which there is no opt-out. We've been too focused on web cookies and on badly-behaved apps.
“I hope our work will act as a wake-up call to the public, politicians and regulators. Meaningful action is urgently needed to give people real control over the data that leaves their phones.”