If you have an Android phone from Optus, then you´re most likely one of the 300,000+ users who have installed the Optus Now App from Google Play. The app has up till now been delivering news, weather, games and sport, but since an update to the app on the 10th of July, it has also been capturing network information such as signal strength and sending it back to Optus for evaluation.
The information collected is described by Optus as ‘high-level network data’ and the data sent remains anonymous. At this stage there is no way to provide users with a way to view the information collected. The data that is being captured will be utilised by Optus to identify:
- Areas to upgrade
- Location of black spots
- Mobile phone faults
- Call dropout locations
- Strength of coverage inside buildings
Optus advised that even while capturing and sending the data, the app has little to no impact on battery life. The app will piggyback network checks on other activities carried out on the phone. For example, it will send and receive small amounts of data only when the user opens a Google Maps or a Facebook session where a location look-up is initiated. Otherwise, it will generally conduct a scan once every two hours.
Amanda Hutton, Head of Customer Experience at Optus advised that the collection of data is part of an ongoing commitment to providing customers with the best network experience possible :
Networks are incredibly complex, so this app is designed to gain insight into network experience at an individual customer level, not just the average experience. No network is perfect, but with our customers’ help, we want to make the Optus mobile network the best in Australia. Through strong investment, smart partnerships and real feedback from customers, we’re well on our way to delivering this.
If you’ve already got the Optus Now app installed you’re already helping to improve the network. If not you can install it and help with the ongoing improvement of the network.
The Optus Now app will actually advise you that Optus is collecting data when you first open the App on your Android device : Optus has stated that you have the ability to ´opt out or switch it off if you choose´ however at this stage I cannot see the option to do so in the App. In all likelihood there is nothing to be concerned about, but if you’re uncomfortable with Optus collecting the data you’ll want to hit Decline at the above point and uninstall the Optus Now app.
What irks me is that this collection of data began 12 days ago and there was nothing in the ´What´s New´ section of the Google Play store. However the above notification was included in the update however listed at option 9 it is what I consider to be ´buried´ fairly deeply in terms and conditions that most users will not bother to read.
This type of collection of data smells a little of the Carrier IQ controversy that hit the US last year, when American carriers were found to be using software to capture data about the network from users without their knowledge.
The 12 day gap in a wide public announcement is a little worrying to me as an Optus customer, in a period where Optus is reintroducing their ‘Yes’ branding and attempting to re-invent their brand, it’s certainly something to think about when choosing your carrier.
What are your thoughts? Time to remove the tin-foil hat and participate to help Optus improve their network or add an extra layer?