Update: A Google spokesperson reached out to us to provide a statement on this research from Vanderbilt University:
“This report is commissioned by a professional DC lobbyist group, and written by a witness for Oracle in their ongoing copyright litigation with Google. So, it's no surprise that it contains wildly misleading information.”
According to research conducted by Vanderbilt University professor Douglas Schmidt and his associates, using Google's Chrome browser and Android sends up to 50 times more personal data to Google than doing comparable activities on an iOS device using Safari. The study was conducted using Google's My Activity and Takeout data management tools, along with measurements of data traffic being sent to Google's servers while services were being used, the company's privacy policies, and third-party research conducted in the past.
Android is referred to as "a key enabler" of Google's data collection habits. The study found that Google collects around two-thirds of an average user's daily personal data through passive means, such as tracking their location or web browsing activity. Device activity such as device logistics, app crashes, and other related data, mostly anonymized for aggregation or bug fixing, is also sent over. Chrome, meanwhile, resides on roughly two billion devices worldwide and is OS-agnostic. When it's used, Google can collect a great deal of information on users' web browsing habits, along with any information they enter into forms. More active forms of collection also happen, such as entering personal account details, adding credit cards to your Google account for easy payment, filling out Google Opinion Rewards surveys to get Google Play credits, and so on. It was also found that Google's advertising network allows data collection on Android devices even when most Google apps aren't used, so long as Google Play Services is intact on the device.
Google's business model relies on collecting comprehensive user data, so the results of this study come as no surprise. It is often said of Google services that you pay for using them with your data rather than with money, as is the case with other large free services like Facebook. Even so, privacy advocates and regulatory authorities have long taken issue with many of these data giants' practices, and change may be coming in the near future. For now, anybody who uses Google's services should do so with the full knowledge that much of their online and offline activity is used to enhance Google services and to target them with high-yield advertising. Those who do not wish to engage in Google's data collection but don't want to use iOS can either look for Android handsets without Google Play Services, many of which can be found through Chinese resellers, or put custom system software on compatible devices. When doing so, installing Google Play Services is optional in most cases, and those who don't mind the absence of the Play Store and other Google services can simply choose not to use them.