Google 'Spying' On People's App Use, Lawsuit Claims

Google employees “spy” on smartphone users, collecting their sensitive data and information about their use of other companies' apps, New York resident Robert McCoy alleges in a new class-action complaint.

The lawsuit centers on “Android Lockbox,” a program that “allows Google employees to spy on how Android Smartphone users interact with non-Google apps,” according to McCoy's complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Android Lockbox came to public attention to weeks ago, when The Informationreported that Google drew on data about people's use of outside apps, like TikTok, for competitive purposes.

McCoy alleges that the “sensitive personal data” on his Android phone, including data related to his use of TikTok, was “secretively collected by Google.”

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He claims Google is violating various privacy and consumer protection laws, including California's new sweeping Consumer Privacy Act.

Google reportedly only collects the data from users who agree to share their “usage and diagnostics” information with the company.

Google says in an online support page the company uses that data “to improve products and services, like Google apps and Android devices.”

For instance, Google says, sharing diagnostic data can improve users' battery life because the information will allow Google to “use info about what's using the most battery on your device to help make common features use less battery.”

McCoy alleges that Google's disclosures about its data collection are insufficient.

“Never is it disclosed that Google actually monitors, collects, and uses sensitive personal data when Android Smartphone users use non-Google apps,” the complaint alleges. “Google’s true purpose of obtaining plaintiff’s and class members’ sensitive personal data is to obtain lucrative behind the scenes technical insight that it can use to develop competing apps against its competitors.”

This lawsuit marks at least the fourth separate privacy case brought against the company in the last several months.

Last week, Google was sued for allegedly collecting personal information from people using the Chrome browser -- including their IP addresses, identifiers stored on cookies, and data about web-browsing activity.

Two weeks ago, Google was hit with a class-action complaint for allegedly tracking people's app activity, even when they attempted to opt out by configuring their privacy settings to stop storing "Web & App Activity."

And two months ago, California residents alleged in a class-action complaint that the company violates federal and California privacy laws by tracking Chrome users who browse the web in "incognito" mode.

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