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Google Stops Sharing Phone Data With Carriers Over Regulatory Fears

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Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has stopped providing a service to wireless companies that showed them weak spots in their coverage, according to a report by Reuters

The company is concerned that the sharing of data, which it gleaned from its Android phones, could attract attention from regulators, especially in a climate when Big Tech companies are under increased scrutiny over data protection. 

Wireless carriers are reportedly disappointed over the move, because Google’s service, called Google’s Mobile Network Insights, had helped them figure out what kind of upgrades to make in terms of their coverage.

The move also highlights the care tech companies have to take when it comes to data sharing. Launched in March of 2017, Google’s Mobile Network Insights service worked as a sort of map that showed how strong signals were and how fast connection speeds were in a certain area.

It was a free service, and the data came from Google’s Android system, which is installed on around 75 percent of smartphones around the globe.

The data was used only from users who had turned on location history and also usage and diagnostics. The info also didn’t link to individuals. It gave carriers a map of its own service as well as competitors, although they weren’t identified by name. 

Google shut down the service in April over privacy concerns, according to the report, which quoted Google spokeswoman Victoria Keough as saying that “product priorities” were behind the change.

“We worked on a program to help mobile partners improve their networks through aggregated and anonymized performance metrics,” Keough said. “We remain committed to improving network performance across our apps and services for users.”

There have been a few examples of companies shutting down products rather than have them attract the attention of regulators.

One main reason is the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was introduced last year and doesn’t allow sharing of user data with third parties unless there’s explicit consent or a legitimate business reason.

Google also shut down a Video Checkup service from YouTube, which would let Malaysian customers compare their own streaming metrics with other carriers. YouTube spokeswoman Mariana De Felice said that “relatively low user engagement” caused the move.

Facebook has been looking into its own data deals with app developers, and the four largest wireless carriers in the U.S. no longer sell data on customers’ locations.

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