About a month ago, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) quietly released an update to the Gmail app for Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS devices that is more significant than it seems, according to a report from Quartz. The company didn’t send out an email or release a statement on its official blog, just left a small note on its Gmail blog saying that the Gmail app for iOS will now run in the background, meaning you won’t have to wait for your inbox to refresh when you open the app to read your messages. But it also means that Google is tracking everything you do on your phone.
“The app now fully supports background app refresh, which means your Gmail messages will be pre-fetched and synced so they’re right there when you open the app — no more annoying pauses while you wait for your inbox to refresh. This feature requires iOS 7, and you’ll also need to turn on background app refresh and notifications (badge or any other type) for the Gmail app,” said software engineer Melissa Dominguez on the Gmail blog.
Now Quartz has released a report further exploring what this change means for the users of Google products. Apple users who have the latest iOS 7 update — and that’s 85 percent of iPhone users — now do not have the ability to watch a video on YouTube or navigate using Google Maps anonymously. Google already owns the most widely-used operating system, Android, and now it has complete access to iPhone users as well, meaning it can collect data on pretty much anyone who uses a smartphone.
The article compares the change to when Google created simultaneous log-ins for its products on the Web back in 2012. At that time, Google claimed it was making the use of its products easier for consumers, and in some ways it is. But the change also made it easier for Google to track its users across Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, and any other Google properties, thus making advertising through the site more valuable due to increased user data.
Some European countries sued Google over the change, but not much came of it besides a couple very small fines. Nothing compared to the more than $50 billion Google made in ad revenue last year.
Now the company wants to do the same thing on mobile that it did on the Web by having users simultaneously signed in to every Google app they use if they’re signed in to one. Google presented the change like a positive for users, since you won’t be forced to type in your password over and over, and all of your data will be synched across apps. But, as it did with Web, the change also makes Google’s mobile ad space much more valuable as it can now better track the activity of iPhone users, who have been repeatedly shown to spend the most money on mobile.
Google’s ad revenue, the main earner in its entire business, has been poorly affected by the shift to mobile, as mobile ads typically don’t command as much money as desktop ones. Recent data released by eMarketer showed that for 2013, Google and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) accounted for 75 percent of new mobile ad spending and 68 percent of the total. Facebook has proven to be highly successful at monetizing on mobile and it stole some of Google’s share of the mobile ad market from the previous year. Google is looking to change those figures by quietly forcing all of its mobile users to be signed in all the time.
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