Google CEO Sundar Pichai thinks Android users have a good understanding of the volume of data Google collects on them, when they agree to use the Android mobile operating system. The exec, who is testifying today in front of the House Judiciary committee for a hearing entitled “Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection, Use and Filtering Practices,” claimed that users are in control of the information Google has on them.
“For Google services, you have a choice of what information is collected, and we make it transparent,” Pichai said in response to questioning from Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).
The reality is that most people don’t read user agreements in full, and aren’t fully aware of what data their phones and apps are able to access. Even on Apple’s platform, known to be fairly privacy-forward, apps have been collecting user data — including location — and selling it to third parties, as noted by a recent New York Times investigation.
Google’s defense on the data collection front is similar to Facebook’s — that is, Pichai responded that Google provides tools that put users in control.
But do they actually use them?
“It’s really important for us that average users are able to understand it,” said Pichai, stating that users do understand the user agreement for Android OS.
“We actually…remind users to do a privacy checkup, and we make it very obvious every month. In fact, in the last 28 days, 160 million users went to their My Account settings, where they can clearly see what information we have — we actually show it back to them. We give clear toggles, by category, where they can decide whether that information is collected, stored, or — more importantly — if they decide to stop using it, we work hard to make it possible for users to take their data with them,” he said.
The 160 million users sounds like a large number, but at Google’s scale, where numerous products have over a billion users apiece, it’s not as big as it seems.
In addition, it has become clear that simply “opting out” of Google’s data collection methods is not always enough. For example, earlier this year, it was discovered that Google was continuing to track users’ location even when users had explicitly turned the Location History setting off — a clear indication they did not want their data collected or shared.
Further in the hearing, Pichai was asked if Google could improve its user dashboard and tools to better teach people how to protect their privacy, including turning off data collection and location tracking.
“There’s complexity,” Pichai said, but admitted this is “something I do think we can do better.”
“We want to simplify it, and make it easier for average users to navigate these settings,” he continued. “It’s something we are working on.”