Monday, November 28, 2022

Your personal lives are at risk if you know how this data can reflect every aspect of your life.

What data Google and Apple holds about you? In times past, people used to hire detectives to keep an eye on a suspicious person. Fast forward to today, that task each one of us is doing on our own by giving access to devices and apps. According to a piece of recent news, Google has been found to collect data from Android users much more than that collected by Apple from its iOS users.

The new research conducted by experts from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, made a comparison between the data shared by iPhones with Apple and that which a Pixel phone shares with Google. The research concluded that Google collects 20 times more handset data than Apple. Moreover, the research also found that the iPhone and Pixel models shared data regularly even when it was “minimally configured”. However, Google does not approve of the methodology used to carry out the research.

ALSO READ: Apple’s next iOS update will have to take your permission before tracking you

How can you make your device secure?

So. The question is what kind of data both these giant companies collect from their users because both companies enjoy a massive user base.

What data does Google collect?

Google collects the data regarding how you choose to engage with its apps, devices and services. That makes quite an exhaustive list including Gmail and YouTube activity, browsing behaviour, location history, online purchases, Google searches and more. The bottomline is anything that is connected to Google is most likely collecting data based on your preferences and activity.

HOWEVER, another source claims that Google still knows a lot of information about its user. For instance, the user’s gender, name and birthdate, recent google searches, websites visited by the user, personal cellphone numbers, the exact location of places the user has been over the past several years, the timing of turning on the bedroom lights, information related to user’s workplace and residence, user’s favourite food/sports/music, the YouTube videos watched as well as the YouTube searches and any time the user has used his/her voice to interact with the Google Assistant.

So let us talk about how each feature offered by Google contributes to the stockpile of an extensive data set. First of all, Google’s Location History page gives a complete guide regarding your work, home and everywhere you have been and which you conveniently saved in Google Maps. The map is efficient enough to give a detailed view of all such places.

Second, Google also stores the data related to the voice interactions you have had with Google Assistant via Google Home or smartphone as well as the sites you visited. Yes, so it tracked you when you ask Google Home to switch off the lights. To see your own history, you can visit the Google My Activity page.

Third, Google also keeps an eye on your YouTube watch as well as YouTube Search history. Google allows you to see what you have searched or watched by allowing you to click on either of those links on YouTube.

How is data collected?

According to a software company, Avast, people genuinely have questions regarding how data collection is carried out by Google and how the information is gathered. Particularly, people are concerned as to whether voice-activated products like Google Assistant and Google Home are being used for more than just processing of requests to play music or but toilet paper. While these concerns are justified and this can raise questions regarding the security risks of using smart home devices, Google is quite safe in this manner. Yes, your home assistant powered by Google recording your private conversations is not one of them unless you voluntarily allow access to Google to collect data.

So now you think that a good amount of your data already rests with Google and that you want to control or limit the data you are giving away. You can use the Privacy Checkup tool or visit the Activity page to limit the tracking of your data. It means you can limit the audio and voice activity, web and app activity, device information, your location, YouTube Search and Watch history and much more.

Well, the good thing is that Google openly accepts the fact that it collects the data and also gives reasons for it. The “Your Data” privacy page tells that Google keeps a track record of contacts you add, emails, photos you upload and calendar events.

What data Google has?

Apart from the things mentioned earlier, Google also knows your email address, your country, the ads you click, your cookie data as well as your IP address. According to Google, it allows them to offer better services to the users so if anybody blocks everything then they also inhibit Google’s ability to show more content that the user might have liked. Google also allows users to download their data including contacts, emails, bookmarks, photos and more so that you can create a copy of your data, move it to another service or simply create a backup.

Google promises to keep all the user data safe during transitions between smartphone or computer and their servers. Moreover, it has also ensured that Google has a cloud infrastructure that protects the data and doesn’t allow any “backdoor access” or “direct access” to any information. Also, Google gives a public transparency report on issues and requests that might affect the users.

And Google is your “loyal friend” too who won’t let your data out! Yes, it promises to never sell your data to advertisers rather uses it to make ads more relevant while you are surfing the internet.

What data Apple collects?

Coming towards the ‘pristine’ Apple users, sadly there is some data collection being carried out there too!

Apple collects the user data and keeps a stack of that in the form of Excel files. Starting from the account details, Apple keeps a record of the basic information including phone number, address, name and Apple ID information. It also includes the IP address of the Apple server used to open the account and also when that account was created.

Then comes the iCloudLogs which keeps a record of every time one of the Apple devices downloads data from iCloud including Safari browsing history, contacts and user’s photo library but doesn’t contain the actual data. A MailLog keeps a record of all the times your Apple device interacts with your iCloud email account but doesn’t store any of your email content. Apple also maintains a record regarding the end-to-end encrypted messaging apps, iMessage and FaceTime. The content of the encrypted text messages and video calls can not be accessed by Apple. However, Apple can provide information regarding the messages and calls that are routed through its servers.

The log files maintained by Apple for both IDS (iMessage) and Facetime, logs only tell if there was an attempt to send an iMessage or to make a FaceTime call as both of these requests are sent through Apple’s servers. Also, the log doesn’t give information as to whether the message was sent or the call was made successfully.

Apple log file format
A sample excel sheet of data collection of a user

A record of support requests and downloads is also kept in the form of Excel documents in a separate folder.

Like Google, Apple tracks your devices

A long list of DS Signons tells about all the times the user logged in to iTunes and particularly from which device. It also gives peripheral information like if the login was failed.

The AOS Orders contains a detailed history regarding the accessories and devices bought by the user. It is so sophisticated that even if you bought earphones at different times, it can tell you that too!

A CRM Installed Product is a track record of all the Apple devices bought by the user which includes detailed information like unique networking MAC address for Ethernet, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections, a note on if a device is unlocked, serial numbers and any other identifying information on a device.

The CRM AppleCare Case Contact gives information about the account holder such as phone number, address, name and whether the user opts into phones calls and marketing emails.

The CRM AppleCare Case Header provides information regarding all the interactions the user has had with customer support. Every time a user calls to convey their problem, a company representative notes the problem faced by the customer and also tells about the outcome of the calls. The CRM Warranty contains information regarding AppleCare coverage, device owner’s warranty and when warranties are expiring.

Okay. Apple is sounding quite efficient here!

Apple also knows your music sense

Well. Wait there’s more!

iForgot file log tells you about every time you reset your password or visited the Apple ID page on the web. iTunes Match Uploads maintains a copy of every song the user uploads to the iTunes Match service which matches the music with downloads and higher quality that copy instead. The list also includes user agent information that can identify the user’s device.

iTunes Match Downloads keeps a similar list of all the matched music that is then downloaded from iTunes Match later on. Moreover, the iTunes Downloads has a complete history related to a user since the creation of the account from movies, videos, albums, songs and apps from the iTunes Store. Other information includes the device on which the item was downloaded along with its IP address.

The Game Center quite understandably contains the data regarding the gaming sessions played by the user. The repair transaction details are also recounted every time a user requests a repair with Apple. The details include information regarding the nature of the issue, any information that identifies the device such as a phone’s IMEI number and any notes made by the Apple staff.

The marketing contact includes the information that the company uses to contact you which includes the reasons for contacting, for example, the user might have a developer account as well as the marketing reasons.

Do you need to worry?

So, okay the data isn’t that much to worry about! Infact, considering the type of personal data Apple has access to, it is still much less as compared to the ones collected by the search giants or social networks. The reason behind this being that Apple is a hardware maker and is not driven by ads. Contrastingly, Google and Facebook used your data to show relevant ads to the user.

What does the research say?

The research conducted by a team of experts at Trinity College Dublin was headed by Doughlas J.Leith and found that both Pixel and iPhone models shared data with their respective manufacturers every 4.5 minutes on average. The data shared included hardware serial number, IMEI, SIM serial number and IMSI, telemetry, handset phone number etc.

As soon as a user inserts SIM in either of the smartphones, both Apple and Google receive details. In addition to that, the iOS sends the MAC addresses and GPS location of nearby devices to Apple. Surprisingly, iOS users simply cannot avoid or opt-out of this option. When phones are not logged in, both phones send SIM serial number, IMEI, hardware serial number and phone number to the manufacturers. Apple continues to collect the user’s local IP address as well as the user’s location. Even after the user has opted out of the option, both operating systems send telemetry data. Google collects as much as 1MB of data while Apple collects about 42 KB of data within 10 minutes of startup. When not in use, the data still gets collected as Google collects about 1MB of data every 12 hours while Apple collects about 52 KB of data.

As far as the news regarding Google’s extensive data collection, a spokesperson from the firm denied the research citing that the methodology used during the study appears quite flawed. Also, the research conducted by Google, according to the sources, shows that the findings are off by an order of magnitude.

Whether true or flawed, the reality is that nearly every online company in today’s digital age makes use of web tracking technology to mine data about your preferences and online habits to personalize the content you see.

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