Google privacy issues in forefront again

The LG Nexus 4 features Qualcomm's Quick Charge 1.0 technology. CBS Interactive

(MoneyWatch) Getting apps for a Google (GOOG) Android phone is just as easy as adding software to an Apple (AAPL) iPhone. Go to the appropriate store and download the apps you want, providing a credit card number for the paid ones and nothing for the free apps.

However, there is one difference. Apple keeps the identities of users under wraps. If you buy an Android app, Google sends personal information to the developer without explicitly telling you, according to an Australian developer. This is just the latest incarnation of privacy problems that have dogged Google over the years.

According to a News.com.au interview with one such developer, the information transfer could be a "side effect" of Google's continuing integration of its properties. Or, it could be "a deliberate decision was made to provide that information to developers through the Google Checkout Portal, without conveying to users that the policy had been changed."

There are a number of potential problems with automatically sending identity and contact information to vendors. For example, a disgruntled consumer who gave a bad review to an app might find the vendor pressuring them to change the rating. People who upload apps with malware would now get information that enable some degree of identity theft.

As developer Dan Nolan wrote:

If you bought the app on Google Play (even if you cancelled the order) I have your email address, your suburb, and in many instances your full name. Each Google Play order is treated as a Google wallet transaction and as such software developers get all of the information (sans exact address) for an order of an app that they would get from the order of something physical.

Responding to a MoneyWatch request for a comment, a Google spokesperson provided the following statement: "Google Wallet shares the information needed to process transactions, and this is clearly stated in the Google Wallet privacy notice."

According to Nolan, this is a new development in processing payments for Android apps:

After doing some more research, Mr. Nolan told News.com.au that sometime before October last year, Google used to provide developers with "alias" email addresses of people that had purchased apps in Google Play, rather than their real email address.

"Sometime around the end of October or November they stopped generating that email and just passed on the real details of the users," Mr Nolan told News.com.au.

Furthermore, Apple, which closely guards the identities of customers of the App Store, has enabled billions of app downloads without passing such information. Retailers in general do not share customer identities with their suppliers.

Google has a long history of raising privacy concerns, including compiling information on people's online habits, recording data from Wi-Fi networks, and not meeting data protection requirements of some countries.

  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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