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