Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Recode: Oracle Quietly Seeded Story About Android Location Tracking to Quartz

An important update to a story I linked to two weeks ago about an Android system service that was collecting location data even when location services were switched off — according to Tony Romm of Recode, Oracle seeded that story to Quartz as part of a PR campaign against Google:

Since 2010, Oracle has accused Google of copying Java and using key portions of it in the making of Android. Google, for its part, has fought those claims vigorously. More recently, though, their standoff has intensified. And as a sign of the worsening rift between them, this summer Oracle tried to sell reporters on a story about the privacy pitfalls of Android, two sources confirmed to Recode.

To be sure, the substance of Quartz’s story — Google’s errant location tracking — checks out. Google itself acknowledged the mishap and said it ceased the practice. Nor does Oracle stand alone in raising red flags about Google at a time when many in the nation’s capital are questioning the power and reach of large web platforms.

Still, Oracle’s campaign is undeniable. In Washington, D.C., for example, it has devoted a slice of its $8.8 million in lobbying spending so far in 2017 to challenging Google in key policy debates. It has sought penalties against Google in Europe, meanwhile, and it even purchased billboard ads in Tennessee just to antagonize its tech peer, sources said.

It is quite reasonable for people and companies to have questions about Google’s dominance in many online services and mobile operating systems and find that Oracle’s dirty tricks campaign somewhat sours the reputation of this story.

But I don’t necessarily think this reflects poorly on Oracle; if anything, it shakes my confidence in Quartz’s reporting. I don’t know what Quartz’s sourcing attribution guidelines are, but the New York Times’ style guide indicates that a source’s interest in the story should be communicated to readers as candidly as possible. In their story, Quartz did not indicate how they were tipped-off to Android’s behaviour.

Oracle is also one of the otherwise-anonymous backers of the named-for-irony Google Transparency Project lobbying group.