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New lawsuit: Why do Android phones mysteriously exchange 260MB a month with Google via cellular data when they're not even in use?

Ad giant sued after mobile allowances eaten by hidden transfers


Google on Thursday was sued for allegedly stealing Android users' cellular data allowances through unapproved, undisclosed transmissions to the web giant's servers.

The lawsuit, Taylor et al v. Google [PDF], was filed in a US federal district court in San Jose on behalf of four plaintiffs based in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin in the hope the case will be certified by a judge as a class action.

The complaint contends that Google is using Android users' limited cellular data allowances without permission to transmit information about those individuals that's unrelated to their use of Google services.

Data sent over Wi-Fi is not at issue, nor is data sent over a cellular connection in the absence of Wi-Fi when an Android user has chosen to use a network-connected application. What concerns the plaintiffs is data sent to Google's servers that isn't the result of deliberate interaction with a mobile device – we're talking passive or background data transfers via cell network, here.

"Google designed and implemented its Android operating system and apps to extract and transmit large volumes of information between Plaintiffs’ cellular devices and Google using Plaintiffs’ cellular data allowances," the complaint claims. "Google’s misappropriation of Plaintiffs’ cellular data allowances through passive transfers occurs in the background, does not result from Plaintiffs’ direct engagement with Google’s apps and properties on their devices, and happens without Plaintiffs’ consent."

Google designed and implemented its Android operating system and apps to extract and transmit large volumes of information between Plaintiffs’ cellular devices and Google using Plaintiffs’ cellular data allowances

Android users have to accept four agreements to participate in the Google ecosystem: Terms of Service; the Privacy Policy; the Managed Google Play Agreement; and the Google Play Terms of Service. None of these, the court filing contends, disclose that Google spends users' cellular data allowances for these background transfers.

To support the allegations, the plaintiff's counsel tested a new Samsung Galaxy S7 phone running Android, with a signed-in Google Account and default setting, and found that when left idle, without a Wi-Fi connection, the phone "sent and received 8.88 MB/day of data, with 94 per cent of those communications occurring between Google and the device."

The device, stationary, with all apps closed, transferred data to Google about 16 times an hour, or about 389 times in 24 hours. Assuming even half of that data is outgoing, Google would receive about 4.4MB per day or 130MB per month in this manner per device subject to the same test conditions.

Putting worries of what could be in that data to one side, based on an average price of $8 per GB of data in the US, that 130MB works out to about $1 lost to Google data gathering per month – if the device is disconnected from Wi-Fi the entire time and does all its passive transmission over a cellular connection.

An iPhone with Apple's Safari browser open in the background transmits only about a tenth of that amount to Apple, according to the complaint.

Much of the transmitted data, it's claimed, are log files that record network availability, open apps, and operating system metrics. Google could have delayed transmitting these files until a Wi-Fi connection was available, but chose instead to spend users' cell data so it could gather data at all hours.

Vanderbilt University Professor Douglas C. Schmidt performed a similar study in 2018 – except that the Chrome browser was open – and found that Android devices made 900 passive transfers in 24 hours.

Under active use, Android devices transfer about 11.6MB of data to Google servers daily, or 350MB per month, it's claimed, which is about half the amount transferred by an iPhone.

YouTube accounts for 13 percent of mobile data

FROM THE ARCHIVES

The complaint charges that Google conducts these undisclosed data transfers to further its advertising business, sending "tokens" that identify users for targeted advertising and preload ads that generate revenue even if they're never displayed.

"Users often never view these pre-loaded ads, even though their cellular data was already consumed to download the ads from Google," the legal filing claims. "And because these pre-loads can count as ad impressions, Google is paid for transmitting the ads."

The Register asked Google to respond to the lawsuit's allegations. It declined to comment.

We also asked Marc Goldberg, Chief Revenue Officer at ad analytics biz Method Media Intelligence whether preloaded ads ever get counted as billable events when not shown.

"Yes they could be," Goldberg said in an email to The Register. "It is important for advertisers to understand their billable event. What are they paying for? Auction won? Ads Served? Ads rendered? These simple questions need to be asked and understood."

The lawsuit seeks to recover the fair market value of the co-opted cellular data and the "reasonable value of the cellular data used by Google to extract and deliver information that benefited Google," dating back years to whenever this practice began. ®

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China's first Mars rover Zhurong will try to land on Red Planet in one piece today

Surviving the 'seven minutes of terror' may not be easy, but hey, 祝你好运!

China’s National Space Administration will today attempt to land its first Mars rover Zhurong on the Red Planet.

The robot is in orbit around Mars aboard the Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which has been mapping the dust world since February for landing zones. Now, according to multiple sources, the spacecraft will attempt to get its solar-powered trundlebot onto the surface at around 2313 UTC (1613 PT) – and as past attempts by humanity have shown, it's a 50-50 shot at best.

Anything can go wrong during the so-called “seven minutes of terror,” the time it takes for a lander to rip through the Martian atmosphere and plop on the ground.

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Google leads Big Tech effort to ensure H-1B spouses can continue working in America

Coalition of 41 organizations oppose labor rule challenge

Google is spearheading an effort to save a visa rule that allows the spouses of H-1B visa holders awaiting green cards to work in the US.

On Friday, Google and 40 other companies and organizations filed an amicus brief supporting the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) H-4 employment authorization document (H-4 EAD) program, which faces a legal challenge by a group called Save Jobs USA.

Save Jobs USA, an association representing Southern California Edison workers who claim they lost their jobs to H-1B visa holders, is suing DHS in a Washington, DC court to undo the rule.

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AMD promises to spend $1.6bn on 12nm, 14nm chips from GlobalFoundries

Also wiggles out of exclusivity deal

Amid fears the global semiconductor crisis may last until 2023, AMD has opted to extend its purchase agreement with GlobalFoundries, giving it access to a greater proportion of the fabricator's output.

AMD disclosed the existence of the deal in an 8-K regulatory filing submitted to the SEC earlier this week. The company has committed to buy $1.6bn worth of 12nm and 14nm node silicon wafers between now and December 31, 2024. It did not disclose a breakdown of the costs nor the exact quantity of output it had secured.

Should AMD fail to meet its purchase obligation, it has committed to pay GlobalFoundries a portion of the difference between its planned and actual spend. AMD has also agreed to pre-pay for an unspecified portion of these wafers in advance.

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Audacity's new management hits rewind on telemetry plans following community outrage

Sorry for trying to add it or sorry for cocking up the comms?

Amid the smell of burning rubber, the new managers of open-source audio editor Audacity have announced a U-turn on plans to introduce "basic telemetry" into the product.

Audacity pitched up under the umbrella of Muse Group earlier this month and professed itself to be both "scared and excited."

Mere days later, an impressive number of users went for the former option and expressed alarm at a GitHub request introducing "basic telemetry."

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Apple's expert witness grilled by Epic over 'frictionless' spending outside the app

How easy would it be for customers to depart the walled garden, legal eagles ask economist

Epic Games' lawyers had a chance to put Apple's expert witness through the wringer in the latest from its California bench trial.

Counsel for Apple called to the stand Lorin Hitt, an academic from the prestigious Wharton Business School in Pennsylvania.

Hitt – who had been selected as expert witness for Apple – questioned whether iOS was as effective at locking in users as previously claimed, citing a 26 per cent switch rate. He also debated whether users remained loyal to a platform because of switching costs, or because they simply like it.

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Facebook Giphy merger stays on ice after failed challenge to UK competition regulator

Problem was of social network's own making, says unimpressed judge

Facebook has failed to neutralise an order from Britain's competition regulator freezing its buyout of Giphy after having "sat on its hands" and failed to answer questions, the Court of Appeal has found.

Judge Sir Geoffrey Vos said "the central problem in this case was entirely of Facebook's own making" as he dismissed its attempt to overturn an Initial Enforcement Order (IEO) made by Britain's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last year.

That IEO blocked the Mark Zuckerberg-owned social network from finishing off its $400m buyout of Giphy, a supplier of web tracking beacons cunningly disguised as funny little animated images used to spice up online chats and comment sections.

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10.8 million UK homes now have access to gigabit-capable broadband, with much of the legwork done by Virgin Media

That's 37% of the country covered, and BT is expected to pick up the pace too

A new Ofcom report shows the number of UK homes with access to gigabit-capable broadband hit 10.8 million in January, representing 37 per cent of households.

The figures were part of Ofcom's Interim Connected Nations report [PDF] and covered September 2020 to January 2021.

Overall, the number of gigabit-capable lines increased by 37 per cent against August's figure [PDF] of 7.9 million.

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Tor users, beware: 'Scheme flooding' technique may be used to deanonymize you

By probing for installed apps with custom URL schemes, it's possible to build a 32-bit unique fingerprint

FingerprintJS, maker of a browser-fingerprinting library for fraud prevention, on Thursday said it has identified a more dubious fingerprinting technique capable of generating a consistent identifier across different desktop browsers, including the Tor Browser.

That means, for example, if you browse the web using Safari, Firefox, or Chrome for some websites, and use the Tor browser to anonymously view others, there is a possibility someone could link your browser histories across all those sessions using a unique identifier, potentially deanonymize you, and track you around the web.

Doing this is non-trivial, it can be very inaccurate or unreliable, and so this is more of a heads up than anything else.

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They say the early bird gets the worm, so why does Orion have NASA's old-school logo?

Visible from the launchpad... when it finally gets there

NASA has slapped its worm logo on the side of the Crew Module Adaptor (CMA) for the Orion spacecraft as the first Artemis mission to the Moon inches closer.

The logo had already been stuck on the underside of the CMA last year, but sticking it on the side will ensure it is visible once the Orion spacecraft and its European-built service module are stacked atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and wheeled out to Kennedy's pad 39B.

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Hospitals cancel outpatient appointments as Irish health service struck by ransomware

Russia-based criminals pick soft target in hope of easy gains

Ireland's nationalised health service has shut down its IT systems following a "human-operated" Conti ransomware attack, causing a Dublin hospital to cancel outpatient appointments.

The country's Health Service Executive closed its systems down as a precaution, local reports from the Irish public service broadcaster RTÉ said, reporting that Dublin's Rotunda Hospital had cancelled appointments for outpatients – including many for pregnant women.

"The maternity hospital said all outpatient visits are cancelled - unless expectant mothers are 36 weeks pregnant or later," reported RTÉ, adding: "All gynaecology clinics are also cancelled today."

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Rapping otters and automated database knob-twiddling: An obvious combination in some universe or other

OtterTune to compete with Oracle automation, but also for open source databases

A university spin-out startup has announced a private beta of an automated database tuning service which its founder claims can double the performance or halve the cost of the popular AWS Relational Database Service.

Among its marketing hype, though, is the, erm, novel approach of launching a hip-hop album of beats and screeching otters. More of that later.

Originating from a project at Carnegie Mellon Database Group, OtterTune is based on the idea you can use machine learning to identify the optimal setting for database parameter knobs, a task well beyond most developers and something even seasoned DBAs struggle with, given the number of databases on the market that they might be required to manage.

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