7 Free Google Services That Cost You Battery Life & Privacy [Android]

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google services android batteryA nameless writer once remarked, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” While probably in reference to broadcast television, the saying also applies to Google’s recent introduction of several poorly implemented services in newer versions of Android. Over the past year, you may have noticed programs running on your device that you never signed up for or installed.

These purported “free” services come with a hidden price: First, they cause battery drain. Second, they cause privacy (and sometimes security) concerns – for example, this morning I accidentally barged into a staff meeting while using the bathroom. A simple tap on a Google Hangout link in my phone’s notification bar is all it took.

This article details how to stop or minimize battery drain and privacy concerns caused by Google’s most intrusive services. However, I must note that Android versions older than Jelly Bean (4.1) will not possess the same software as listed in this article.

Additionally, Google makes it impossible to disable all of their services, unless you’re willing to root your phone and install a custom ROM. However, that path comes with its own bugbears and pitfalls – do so at your own risk.

Why Google’s Services Cause Battery Drain

Without your continued participation in its programs, you prevent Google from recording information on your usage habits. If you stop looking at its ads they lose money. Ultimately, your use of Google’s services reigns supreme over other concerns, such as horrific battery drain, privacy problems and sluggish device performance.

google services android battery

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The Nefarious Google Apps

Google Now

If you’re not familiar with the technology, Google Now is the service that creepily pops up information that you didn’t even know you needed. Part of its stalker-like ability to keep tabs on its users derives from the huge amount of information Google collects from its customers.

However, aside from the obvious privacy concerns that Google Now presents us (a single service that aggregates everything a massive corporation collected from its users), Google Now drains a tremendous amount of juice from your phone’s battery.

To turn off Google Now, activate the service and then press on the Menu button, denoted by three dots. After that, go to Settings and then Google Now.

google services android

As someone who uses and loves Google Now, having both a limited data plan and a constantly running background service do not mix.

Google Currents

One of the proposed successors to the soon-to-be dying Google Reader, Google Currents provides an online magazine-like experience to users on Android 4.1 and later. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the biggest battery hogs of all – partly because it constantly refreshes itself in the background, finding new content, and mainly because it keeps your device’s data connection running. Poor performance and slowdown were also reported issues.

If you’ve never used Currents, it likely won’t cause any issues, since you must configure the app before it will run in the background. Also, most reports suggest that Currents did not perform well on tablets using slow (Class 4) flash memory, which indicates a cache issue and I/O bottleneck. If your device doesn’t use inferior flash memory, then it shouldn’t experience such performance problems.

To remedy the problems cause by Currents, first, open the app. Second, tap on the Settings icon. Third, uncheck the “Enable Background Sync” checkbox. The problem should go away after restarting your device.

Google+

This app can activate both your microphone and front facing video camera, which leaves the door open to breaches in privacy. However, it also can run in the background and trigger notifications on your device. In one particularly embarrassing episode of my life, which happened just today, I foolishly logged into a staff meeting while using the bathroom.

Please ignore my use of the word “log”, no pun intended. Seriously, no pun intended.

Disable Google+ by going to Settings -> Log out.

Instant Upload

A battery draining feature located inside of Google+. You’ll want to turn this feature off, since it uploads your pics to your photo account, if left on. That’s particularly bad for your battery if you’re connected to the internet through 3G or LTE.

Go to Menu -> Settings -> Instant Upload -> turn it off.

google services android

Google Maps

Google Maps liberally uses GPS, for good reason, although it causes tremendous battery drain when you’re not using the app.  To disable maps perform the following:

Settings -> Location Service -> Uncheck Report from this device

After which, when you restart, GPS shouldn’t run in concert with Maps.

Google Latitude

Latitude perhaps provides the spookiest information on your location. To disable Latitude, go to Maps. Then go to Menu (the three dots), then Settings and finally Location settings where you uncheck Enable location sharing.

google services android

Google Talk

One of the most irritating things about Google Talk is that it runs in the background, despite my having no memory of configuring or using it in any way. Friends sometime ask me why I seem to be logged into Talk at all hours of the day – news to me, since up until recently I had never seriously used the application. Apparently, if you have an Android device, Google Talk signs you into chat automatically. This causes both privacy concerns and unneeded battery drain.

To sign out, you’ll need to start-up the app, click on your account and select Sign out.

google services privacy

Disabling Sync Entirely

If you want to disable sync for all your Google apps, Google fortunately provides a central location where the majority – but not all – can setup to not sync, without manually activating the app.

First, go to Settings. Second, go to Accounts and choose Google. If you have multiple accounts registered with the device, they will both show (and be syncing your data). Tap on the account you want to disable. Doing so will reveal all the services Google syncs you data with. Simply tap on the accounts you want to disable.

google services android battery

Software Suggestions

For root users, I suggest using a combination of Greenify and Deep Sleep Battery Saver. Ryan also covered a few additional means of reducing battery consumption, Juice Defender being among the best of his options.

I’ve written about the Battery Saver app in the past, and how to configure an unrooted phone for better battery management—essentially, it all ties into whether your phone is connected to the internet. Without internet access, Google’s services can’t go nuts phoning home with your statistics.

Conclusion

Please don’t do as I did. Barging into a staff meeting riding the porcelain throne will not reflect well upon you at the water cooler, because there won’t be a water cooler in your future. However, such actions will give you a great story to tell as you gather around a flaming barrel of garbage beneath the overpass, telling stories of how you arrived at such a god-forsaken place.

Image Credits: Toilet via MorgueFile.com; Speak, Hear, See via MorgueFile.com

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Comments (26)
  • Josh

    Thank you so much! My Galaxy S4 has been giving me fits with power drain. Of course I had this problem before my Razr Maxx, so it would make sense that I’m having it since I’ve sold it and moved on. It was between Google Services, the screen kicking on because the buttons were being pressed in the case and my cell services struggling to search for a signal in my inner building office. I think I should have a phone that will last the day now!

    It’s too bad that you can’t schedule sync for these items to have access to the service but also some control on how much they’re used. Maybe Google will get a clue on that one at some point?

    • Kannon Y

      Actually, you can schedule sync using a more intelligent data access program. More or less, for your particular issue, it’s possible to automate your apps access to data based upon whether or not you’re getting good cellular service. When it’s poor, or you don’t need it, data is turned off.

      https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.zonedead.android.smartdata&hl=en

      In truth, the worst Google Service is Google Maps and sometimes Google Now. I’ve had serious problems with both, but that might be because I also get poor cellular reception in my area.

      Thanks for the comment Josh!

  • Akshay Hallur

    In most of these cases the faulty SIM card is the real killer of battery SIM Card causing high battery drain (Solution) this will help you

    • Kannon Yamada

      Akshay, you are totally right. I went ahead and refit my SIM card and many of my battery issues entirely went away.

      I suspect that Google Maps is otherwise the only service that truly drains the battery… Perhaps some of these issues are magnified by use of a faulty SIM card.

  • Mark LaFlamme

    One thing you didn’t discuss, unless I missed it, is freezing offending apps, which renders them powerless without actually wiping them off your phone. I use either Titanium Backup or Link2SD to freeze maps I want to keep on ice until I need them. Hell, it occurred to me that I don’t use Maps all that often, so I froze the sucker. Tons of battery savings. If I need it for something, it’s as easy as defrosting, which takes about three seconds. I love the freezing option.

    • Kannon Yamada

      Thanks for sharing! Freezing apps with TB is definitely a great option, although I have caused bootloops before doing so. Also, I didn’t know Link2SD could freeze apps, though, I’ll have to try it out something.

      Chris wrote a great article about how-to freeze apps natively. Although that’s available only on ICS and better.

  • Tom Six

    I have all of these on…great read, great to know.

  • Konrad Mowrer

    One more reason to get an iPhone.

    • Kannon Yamada

      From what I can tell, Windows Phones and Symbian tend to have fewer problems with security and background processes. iOS is an improvement over unrooted, unmodified Android handsets, but many studies show similar security issues.

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.