- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Amid an onslaught of lawsuits alleging it has spied on its users, Google is facing new scrutiny about whether it uses the private data it collects to best its competitors and could be hit with more litigation.

Rep. Joe Neguse, Colorado Democrat, questioned Google CEO Sundar Pichai at last week’s antitrust hearing about reports that Google collects info on Android users in an internal program it uses to develop apps that outperform its competitors. Mr. Pichai repeatedly declined to answer whether it uses the data it collects to build services that defeat competing apps.

“Congressman because we try to understand what’s going on in [the] market and we are aware of [the] popularity of apps, I want to be accurate in my answer but in general the primary use for that data is to improve the health of Android,” Mr. Pichai told Mr. Neguse at an antitrust hearing last week. “But any data we get we have user consent for it, and we make it available through an [application programming interface (API)] to other developers as well.”

Precisely how Google uses that data could soon become the subject of new federal action or private litigation. Jesse Panuccio, former Justice Department acting associate attorney general in the Trump administration, said his firm Boies Schiller Flexner is investigating Google’s data collection practices and will pursue additional litigation as “needed and appropriate.”

Boies Schiller Flexner lawyers have already sued Google for allegedly breaking federal wiretapping law and monitoring users’ app usage, communications, and personal information after users attempted to opt out of giving Google permission. The firm has also filed a lawsuit seeking $5 billion in damages alleging that Google improperly collected and kept users’ information who used a private setting.

“Google promises privacy, but values voyeurism,” Mr. Panuccio said in an email. “Privacy is important, and people should have a choice.”

Boies Schiller Flexner has represented some of Google’s competitors, including Oracle and Amazon, and has the resources to go toe-to-toe with Google. Boies Schiller Flexner’s annual revenues are reported to exceed $400 million.

Google, however, would prefer to avoid future litigation and wants its users to believe that any data it collects is also able to be collected by other app developers. But Google will not say whether it shares the data it chooses to collect with developers working outside Google.

“Since 2014, the Android App Usage Data API has been used by Google and Android developers who have been authorized by Android [original equipment manufacturers] or users to access basic data about app usage — such as how often apps are opened—to analyze and improve services,” a Google spokesperson told The Washington Times. “For example, Google uses this app usage information—which is obtained solely via this API — to enable Android’s Adaptive Battery feature, which allocates battery power to the apps people use most frequently, to power our Digital Wellbeing features, and to improve app discovery in the Play store. The API doesn’t obtain any information about in-app activity and our collection of this data is disclosed to and controllable by users.”

Regardless of whether Congress pursues new legislation surrounding antitrust concerns at Google, Mr. Pichai’s comments gave outside investigators and federal officials new insights that could produce new investigations of the massive internet and advertising technology company.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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