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Report: ‘Android Lockbox’ lets Google monitor third-party Android app usage

As the developer of Android, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Google has access to usage stats on how people use the OS. A new report provides some insight into the kind of information that it has access to.

According to The Information, the “Android Lockbox” keeps track of basic app stats like launch frequency and session duration, as well as usage at a per-country level. Internal documents describe it as a “service that collects sensitive Android user data,” though it is anonymized and not tied to individual accounts.

The report identifies a “Magic Eye” team within Google that’s tasked with tracking first-party app usage and leverages Lockbox data to brief executives on how third-party services compare.

Lockbox is part of the Google Mobile Services bundle that includes defaults like Gmail and Drive. The company confirmed to The Information that it “accesses usage data on other developers’ apps through Android, but said it has provided similar functionality to external developers.”

This report said that Lockbox recently helped the YouTube team responsible for a competing “Shorts” feature see the “behavior of Indian Android users on TikTok and its competitors, and “speed up the future launch.” However, The Information cites one example of a Googler’s request for Lockbox information being denied, so it’s not clear how freely available this “competitive data” is internally.

Meanwhile, Google says its “data collection on external apps is ‘obtained solely’ by a public software program in Android, which was first made available in 2014.”

End users can turn off this data collection with the preference presented during initial device set-up as a way to “improve Android” by detailing “what’s working and not working.” It can be enabled/disabled after the fact from Settings > Google > overflow menu in top-right corner > “Usage & diagnostics.”

A Google support document specifies the kind of information collected:

  • Battery level
  • How often you use your apps
  • Quality and length of your network connections (like mobile, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth)

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: