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What you need to know

  • Researcher Douglas Leith from Trinity College compared data collection between Android and iOS.
  • The tests found that Google collects 20X more data than Apple.
  • Google is contesting the merits of the study, however.

Google is reportedly collecting 20X more data from Android devices than Apple does from iPhones.

As reported by Ars Technica, researcher Douglas Leith from Trinity College in Ireland has put together a side-by-side comparison between the type and amount of data that Google and Apple collect from their devices.

Both iOS and Android, researcher Douglas Leith from Trinity College in Ireland said, transmit telemetry data to their motherships even when a user hasn't logged in or has explicitly configured privacy settings to opt out of such collection. Both OSes also send data to Apple and Google when a user does simple things such as inserting a SIM card or browsing the handset settings screen. Even when idle, each device connects to its back-end server on average every 4.5 minutes.

While both iOS and Android send data continuously to Apple and Google, Leith says that Android really stands alone with the sheer amount of data it collects from devices.

Where Android stands out, Leith said, is in the amount of data it collects. At startup, an Android device sends Google about 1MB of data, compared with iOS sending Apple around 42KB. When idle, Android sends roughly 1MB of data to Google every 12 hours, compared with iOS sending Apple about 52KB over the same period. In the US alone, Android collectively gathers about 1.3TB of data every 12 hours. During the same period, iOS collects about 5.8GB.

Google is pushing back against the report, saying that the research is based on faulty methods for measuring the data collected by each operating system. A spokesperson for Google has said the following:

We identified flaws in the researcher's methodology for measuring data volume and disagree with the paper's claims that an Android device shares 20 times more data than an iPhone. According to our research, these findings are off by an order of magnitude, and we shared our methodology concerns with the researcher before publication.

This research largely outlines how smartphones work. Modern cars regularly send basic data about vehicle components, their safety status and service schedules to car manufacturers, and mobile phones work in very similar ways. This report details those communications, which help ensure that iOS or Android software is up to date, services are working as intended, and that the phone is secure and running efficiently.

Ars Technica reached out to Apple for comment but has not yet received a response.

It is basically common knowledge at this point that Android devices send more data to Google than iOS devices do to Apple. In addition to collecting less data, Apple also continues to introduce more privacy features so that the data is anonymous.

While this report is being contested, it will be hard for Google to close a gap as big as 20X.