“What this means is that, if an advertiser is going to target you based on something you say (what, when, how long) then there is a chance they must listen in on your voice and see if you are lying or if you are having a valid reason to say what they are telling you,” Borthwick told me. Borthwick says that if a user is saying something like, “Oh, we’re going to send you three boxes of food and they are all under different brands,” then an advertiser is well aware of this and therefore there is less incentive to be misleading.
Borthwick believes that the industry ought to look beyond its borders. “You can see that in some cases, they’re buying from a foreign entity (US-based), but they’re purchasing these apps and other devices that are developed and sold in India but created in India – this is a good example of the new ecosystem.” A big problem, Borthwick says, lies with Google, which he believes has not provided enough attention or transparency when it comes to these devices and their functionality, and it is also hard for consumers to know if they’re not getting what they paid for. On the consumer side Borthwick says that Google is not being transparent with the consumer. “This has gone on for over a year now, and it’s only now that we are really getting a clear picture. It’s not just Google, but the other players in the space. If you look at the devices, there’s almost nobody buying these products directly from Google (at least not for the moment) and the reason for that is there simply isn’t a market for these. Even Google knows that’s the case but they’re doing nothing about it, even though they have the devices and the service in place.” On the company’s own end Borthwick says, “What we’re really seeing is a complete disconnect between product development, and the platform development, and the device development.”
So what does Google need to do? Borthwick says: “They need to give our consumer devices the same care and attention that they give YouTube and other media. At least in the US. “Not only give them all the same care but make them in the same way as YouTube.” “If they didn’t feel like they were giving us all the same care then how can we trust them when they’re actually using these devices in different ways?” As for privacy, Borthwick says: “There is an interesting story going on in India.” As it turns out, Borthwick is not the only one who thinks so; I spoke to people at Google at the end of last year who told me they believed that they were giving users privacy protection by default. However, the people I interviewed told me, that is no longer the case. A Google Android user at the time of my conversation with Borthwick, said, “I believe that every notification you get from Google is going to be anonymous to you.” When I asked Google whether this was true, they told me that they did believe the user was anonymous but that they needed to balance that with how privacy can be managed in each setting. Google tells me the company does not keep an individual log of all that goes on. It only stores “specific personal data” that is used by Google’s services to tailor its mobile content and experience based on your interests (such as in-app advertising ). For example, if you like an app that shows you a countdown of how long you have left on your trial period , that’s what Google is telling you and it is keeping that number private and encrypted.
In recent years mobile search has expanded to include a wide range of data on apps . A person at Google tells me that there is “a huge pool of data” available to Google on how people use their Google apps. For example, it allows them to see how often people open individual apps within the Google Services Framework (GSS), as well as to see which apps have the most usage among different age groups (there is a separate category for those under 15, by the way).
A Google representative told me: I’m not going to talk into a lot of this stuff, because it’s an ongoing investigation, given that we haven’t turned over what we already had. But what I can tell you is that we take this very seriously and that our engineers spend a lot of their time getting to know our customers, their needs and then figuring out best practices with them. “Ultimately though, the focus is on making sure that Android is the best experience across all device types and every screen where an user might find it, whether it’s a PC, mobile phone, tablet