An internal program at Google known as “Android Lockbox” can give the company’s employees access to information about how Android users interact with popular, non-Google apps and services.
The program, which works via Google Mobile Services, means that employees can reportedly see “sensitive” data about other apps, including how often they are opened and for how long they are used.
Sources say this information has been used to keep tabs on rivals to Goggles Gmail service or monitor Facebook and Instagram usage. The company is also thought to have used it to plan the launch of its TikTok competitor.
According to reports, Android Lockbox gets its most useful information when users agree to share information with Google as part of the Android setup process. Users are told that the data allows Google to offer a more personalised experience, but it also provides data for competitive research.
Google admitted that it has access to usage data from rival apps, but said that the program is public and that other developers can also access similar data.
Sources also say the data gathered is anonymous and is not personally identifiable but Google says the data collection is disclosed to users and that they have control over iy.