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The Austrian group NOYB claims Android phones violate Europeans’ right to privacy.

Privacy group NOYB has instigated a new complaint about Google’s use of the Android Advertising ID (AAID) to track users. They claim that the identifiers that the Android system uses are in clear violation of EU law.

Max Schrems founded NOYB in 2017, and the group has been very active recently in going after mobile phone giants. In November 2020, NPYB filed complaints against Apple for its IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) on iPhones. Specifically, they filed complaints with the German Data Protection Authority in Berlin as well as the Spanish Data Protection Authority. The complaints said that Apple’s IDFA was equivalent to a tracking cookie cookie installed by a website without the user’s consent. Apple was thus in violation of the EU’s e-Privacy law.

Now, it’s Google’s turn in the barrel. Schrems’s group has filed a complaint against Google with France’s data protection authority. The complaint claims that the Android Advertising ID (AAID) “is simply a tracking ID in a mobile phone instead of a tracking ID in a browser cookie.”

Thus both the storage of the AAID and its access are illegal because this “should be authorized by the user through prior consent.”

How Android Trackers work

In a news bulletin posted on their website, NOYB detailed the how and why of their claim. “Google’s software creates the AAID without the user’s knowledge or consent,” they say. “The identification number functions like a license plate that uniquely identifies the phone of a user and can be shared among companies.”

The problem comes after Android creates the AAID. Then, Google and third parties (e.g. applications providers and advertisers) can access the AAID to track users’ behaviour. This helps them elaborate consumption preferences and provide personalised advertising. The EU “Cookie Law” (Article 5(3) of the e-Privacy Directive) strictly regulates such tracking, NOYB says. That law requires the users’ “informed and unambiguous consent.”

A privacy lawyer from NOYB, Stefan Rossetti, described the problem. “Imagine having coloured powder on your feet and hands that marks your every step and action: everything you touch within the mobile ecosystem. And you can’t remove it – you can only change it to a different color. This is what the Android Advertising ID is all about – a tracker that marks your every action within and beyond the mobile ecosystem.”

Currently there are about 450 million active mobile phones in the European Union. Of these, about 306 million use Android, according to NOYB. “Considering that almost all of these Android phones use the AAID tracker, one can get an impression of the extent of this tracking,” they claim.

“The extent of this case is bewildering. Almost all Android users seem to be affected by this technology. We therefore hope that the French CNIL will take action,” said Rossetti.