Google "abuses Android OS to obtain a competitive advantage", according to a lawsuit filed this week alleging that the Alphabet offshoot "secretively monitored and collected users' sensitive personal data" to develop apps to compete with TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram.
The putative class-action suit, filed on Wednesday in the Northern district of California [PDF] also alleged that Google was gathering info from TikTok specifically in order to "unfairly compete against TikTok [with a] competing video platform app called 'Shorts'."
Just yesterday, US president Donald Trump issued two executive orders banning made-in-China-but-only-operating-outside-of-it app TikTok, along with Chinese messaging service WeChat.
This week's sueball cited a recent report alleging the existence of an internal programme dubbed "Android Lockbox", which it said was the source of "behind the scenes technical insight" into non-Google apps.
The suit further alleged that Lockbox worked "through Google Mobile Services and allows Google employees to spy on how Android Smartphone users interact with non-Google apps. For example, Google is able to collect data on when and how often an Android smartphone user opens and runs non-Google apps and the amount of time spent in non-Google apps."
The plaintiff, Robert McCoy, stated that Google asks for "consent" during the Android setup process, but says that users are "only vaguely told that Google will collect personal data 'to offer a more personalized experience'," adding: "Android smartphone users... relied upon this statement when setting up their Android smartphones thinking that [they] would become more 'personalized' when in fact Google actually secretly pilfered their sensitive personal data without their consent."
The suit also claims that it is not "disclosed that Google actually monitors, collects, and uses sensitive personal data when Android users use non-Google apps."
The lead plaintiff's legal team – which is looking to certify a class of millions of users – alleged that the Chocolate Factory breached various privacy, competition, and contract laws, including California's new sweeping Consumer Privacy Act. The suit seeks $5,000-a-head per breach. With a potential class in the "millions", that's at least $10bn.
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Google has previously said it collects the data from users who agree to share their "usage and diagnostics" information with the firm.
The ad 'n' search giant is currently under the microscope by competition regulators on both sides of the pond. Earlier this week, the European Commission said it would use EU Merger Regulations to look at Google's proposed $2.1bn purchase of Fitbit and the wider data implications for users and rivals, as it was concerned the deal would "further entrench Google's market position in online advertising".
Over in the US, the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law is taking a good long look at "Online Platforms and Market Power" – putting Amazon, Apple, and Facebook on the grill along with Google. It's all here in its full glory on, er, Google's YouTube.
On the privacy front, the company is also fighting off a lawsuit from Chrome users alleging its browser harvests their personal info even though they opted out of Chrome sync.
We have asked Google for comment. ®
The case is McCoy v. Alphabet, Inc. et al, case number 5:20-cv-05427.