In a report that surfaced recently on Reuters, Google spokeswoman Victoria Keough confirmed the long standing apprehensions about Google discontinuing its Mobile Network Insights service.
About Mobile Network Insights
The Mobile Network Insights service has its origin in 2017, when Google started to offer a map of cell network strength and speed to several carriers, for free.
The map was specifically built using information and critical data. It was collected from Android devices. Contrary to popular opinion, the data mobile network insights service was not limited to any particular brand of carrier.
Rather it included usable data about the coverage and speed offered by most carrier competitors. However, the names of the carriers availing this service have not been disclosed.
The now discontinued Mobile Network Insights Service provided by Google was developed with a special care of individual privacy. Thus, users themselves had to give consent and share their device’s location history and usage, along with diagnostic data.
The data was then aggregated by Google, before presenting it to carriers for their use. This step was especially taken to ensure that the data cannot be linked with any individual users.
However, Google’s recent decision of discontinuing this service indicates that the above concessions were not enough.
Reasons Why Google Discontinued Mobile Network Insights
In the past couple of years, the collection of location data has been a highly debated topic since it was revealed that some US networks were compliant in sharing real-time location data with external third party entities.
Adding to that, Google has also been compliant in tracking users even after they have switched off the location history feature on their devices, which has in turn attracted criticism from all corners.
This can be considered as the catalyst behind Google drastic decision.
Data scandals involving big tech companies are not new, as the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal indicates.
According to reports from the Observer and the New York Times Cambridge Analytica was guilty of harvesting the data of up to 50 million Facebook users.
Even though the process used an “informed consent” model, it still gathered the personal information of users without their consent. In turn had landed both companies in a long drawn out legal battle.
Another reason that may have contributed significantly to Google decision is the recent GPCR probe from regulators on the company.
The probe examines the methodology used by Google. It was to treat personal user data at each stage of their ad tracking system. As the EU continues its data privacy legislation for the second year, the U.S. has also faced pressure for introducing new regulations for data privacy in the country.
It should be noted that other big tech companies apart from Google are also under the scanner. It has prompted Google to examine its own internal affairs.
As mentioned before, Google has not officially given any reason behind the service’s sudden discontinuation.
According to the Reuters article, however, data privacy was not the sole factor behind this sudden decision. These include concerns. Carriers were not upgrading their networks fast enough with the data received as well as maintaining a particular level of data quality.
It should be noted that Google isn’t the only company that was offering such a service involving sharing coverage data with carriers.
In fact, Facebook has a similar “Actionable Insights” feature which also shares similar data related to connectivity with almost 100 different carriers spread across 50 nations. Facebook even goes one step forward, as the tool also included storing demographic data as well as personal interests.
Google hasn’t discontinued the practice of collecting data from users, with some data being collected anonymously.
These are mainly used to improve the overall quality of the network involved, which was the main aim behind Google’s Mobile network Insights service in the first place.
According to the Google’ spokesperson however, the decision was mainly taken due to what she described as “product priorities” without elaborating further.
Data on social media forums and platforms such as Google, represent user’s behaviour, attitude, feelings and relationships. It has increasingly, being harvested to be used for different research purposes.
However, the problems of ethics and privacy have always been a major factor hindering the process. Even when the data harvested belongs to the public domain.
Thus, the recent decision taken by Google is not a surprise if one considers the consequences of being involved in a scandal. With recent scandals and legal battles being faced by a lot of other major tech companies, it seems likely that Google’s move was made as a precautionary step.