By David Meyer
May 15, 2018

The long-running feud between Google and Oracle has officially spilled over into the tech-privacy debate, with Oracle prompting an Australian investigation into Google’s alleged tracking of Android phone users.

The Australian competition and privacy regulators are jointly looking into Oracle’s allegations that Android phones quietly tell Google where users are located, even if they have location services turned off, and even if there is no SIM card in the device.

These allegations first surfaced in November media reports. While the source of the information was not disclosed at the time, security expert Ashkan Soltani—formerly the Federal Trade Commission’s chief technologist—claimed Oracle had disseminated the story, and had been trying to do so for months.

Oracle has now openly repeated the allegations in a presentation to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC,) which is probing Google and Facebook’s impact on the advertising market—spoiler: they own it. Oracle also said Android devices sent Google detailed information on people’s searches and surfing.

Crucially, Oracle claimed all of these surreptitious data transfers add up to about a gigabyte per month, for which the user has to pay.

“We are exploring how much consumers know about the use of location data and are working closely with the Privacy Commissioner,” the ACCC said in a statement. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner said it was “making inquiries with Google.”

Google, which has been fighting Oracle in court for years over the code used in Android, hit back at its nemesis by pointing out that Oracle is a major player in the behind-the-scenes trafficking in people’s data.

“Google is completely focused on protecting our users’ data while making the products they love work better for them. Users can see what data is collected and how it’s used in one easy place, My Account, and control it all from there,” Google said. “Like many of Oracle’s corporate tactics, this presentation is sleight of hand, not facts, and given that Oracle markets itself as the world’s biggest data broker, they know it.”

“Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user,” the company added.

Oracle declined to respond to Google’s parry.

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