Google is reportedly keeping tabs to how its users interact with rival Android apps, selectively monitoring how the users interact with non-Google apps via an internal program to make its own products better.
According to a report in The Information, an internal program at Google known as "Android Lockbox" gives employees access to data on how Android users interact with popular, non-Google apps like TikTok, Facebook and Instagram.
"When YouTube was planning the rollout of its rival to TikTok in India earlier this month, employees turned to a valuable source of market research: how people in the country were using TikTok and its competitors on Android", the report claimed.
The program works via Google Mobile Services (GMS). The Google employees can reportedly see "sensitive" data about other apps, including how often they're opened and for how long they're used. Google-owned YouTube is working on a TikTok rival called Shorts, to be introduced by the end of this year.
"In some cases, such as YouTube in India, this data helps Google advance its own competing apps, say the people, all of whom requested anonymity to speak freely," the report added.
"Google is also thought to have used the internal program to plan the launch of its TikTok competitor called Shorts", according to the report.
"Android Lockbox" works after Google users agree to share information as part of the Android setup process.
Users are told that this data allows Google to offer a more personalised experience. According to the report, it also provides data for competitive research. Google admitted that it has access to usage data from rival apps.
A Google spokesperson told The Verge in a statement: "Since 2014, the Android App Usage Data API has been used by Google and Android developers who have been authorized by Android OEMs or users to access basic data about app usage -- such as how often apps are opened -- to analyze and improve services".
"The API doesn't obtain any information about the in-app activity and our collection of this data is disclosed to and controllable by users," the spokesperson was quoted as saying.
The US government is set to grill Google along with other tech giants over its dominance in their fields of Search and anti-market practices. The panel announced its antitrust probe into the tech giants in June last year.
Google isn't the only company that's been accused of such data gathering practices. In 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook used a VPN service called Onavo to monitor rival services.
Onavo Protect -- a Facebook's software that was going to get the functionality -- was billed as a piece of VPN software. Onavo was used primarily to gather information about what other apps Facebook users were using on their mobile devices. The app was shut down in 2019.