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

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2013 04 04 22.49.271   7 Free Google Services That Cost You Battery Life & Privacy [Android]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.

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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 now   7 Free Google Services That Cost You Battery Life & Privacy [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 plus   7 Free Google Services That Cost You Battery Life & Privacy [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.

gmaps   7 Free Google Services That Cost You Battery Life & Privacy [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.

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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.

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

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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26 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Chris Marcoe

I can happily say I do NOT have any of these on my phone slowing me down. And speeding up the battery discharge.

this si a great article. thank you.

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Madan Kumar PC

Thanks for the article. Fortunately, i am also in the safe zone as of yet.

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Nevzat A

I don’t turn-off sync for gmail and talk but for others, it’s necessary. In fact, if you use Facebook, Twitter etc, you should do the same and set the sync off to save battery and RAM. Good article, thanks.

Reply

John

I can happily say i dumped Google last year and have never been happier. I believe in keeping my privacy and data mine not shady Googles.

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dragonmouth

The more MUO articles I read about smart phones and tablets, The more I am convinced that I do not need/want one. It’s like revisiting the bloatware-filled HP or Compaq PCs on steroids.

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Priyal Soni

Nice thanks for sharing

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williamworlde

Maybe it’s because I’m in IT. Maybe it’s because IT, and my very own nature, made me super suspicious (the things we do to our users!). Maybe it’s because Google is the organization out of all those I deal with that I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT TRUST. Maybe it’s any one of those things or all of them, the first thing I did upon switching to Android (from iP) last November after rooting my GNex was put avast! on and firewall the daylights out of the device.

This doesn’t mean it’s debilitated in any way. It is fully functional but I’m always keeping my eyes and ears open for new security breaches and fixes/workarounds. (With a firewall you can stop apps talking to the web when they have absolutely no need to, which implies better privacy and battery life.)

I performed all the pointers you covered in your article intuitively, but the majority of folks, including IT ones, don’t.
Maybe you should have a permanent link on your homepage saying something like, “I have a new Android smartphone; MUST-DO next steps.” Google’s free operating system is way too expensive if users ignore properly securing it from their ever-prying/spying eyes!

I pride myself on trying my best to be one of their absolutely WORST customers!

CarlosO

What’s great about what you did is that you can actually say for a fact if google apps have been reporting any sensitive information you wouldnt want to… have they?

Kannon Yamada

Aside from being able to log in from a toilet, no, I can’t say with certainty that Google is using your information insecurely – but they have in the past. The worst thing that happened was the Carrier IQ scandal.

Google, through cellular carriers, made available a logging software that recorded your keystrokes (passwords and logins) and then secretly mailed this information back to a third party – the company in question, Carrier IQ, did not disclose how this information was stored. So even if they didn’t have malicious purposes, they were likely not encrypting this data – any security lapses on their part could result in all manner of passwords and logins getting into the hands of hackers.

And, in fact, they WERE handing people’s data over to the FBI!

Should we trust Android? Probably not.

Reply

Gideon Waxfarb

I look at tracking and privacy like this… if they’re tracking me, it’s because they want to advertise to me. And currently, with an ad-blocker installed on a rooted Nexus, I see 0 ads, so track away for all I care :) I don’t really do anything on my phone that I would be uncomfortable seeing in tomorrow morning’s headlines, so I don’t see what the big deal is. People act like their grocery lists and baby photos on Facebook is super secret data that billion dollar corporations actually care about.

Kannon Yamada

That makes perfect sense for those concerned about what Google is doing with our info: probably trying to target us with ads. And I absolutely agree with you on that point.

Though, as mentioned in the article, the degree of integration between Google’s services and your phone make for uncomfortable situations: Like where you accidentally “log into” a staff meeting while using the bathroom. Yes, I actually did this. Fortunately, the person still in the meeting was very understanding.

Another important issue is battery drain – because Google’s services are constantly collecting metrics on you, it’s also running your battery down. There’s a great deal of disagreement over the extent to which your battery is impacted, but in my experience, it causes a substantial amount.

Currently, my phone drains at about 2-3% a day while idle. With Google services, it drained as much as 50% while idle, while I slept. Horrible.

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Bala Murugan.R vicky

yeah.. just because we have Google’s os they shouldn’t suffocate us with this many apps, that to mostly every thing is pre-installed and we can’t delete them. Especially sync with your mail and social networks are fine but that too sometimes would be pain in ass if you keep hearing your notification tone non-stopping. best have your sync off.. that saves the battery big time. And one more info those battery saver apps, FYI it takes some of your batt and reduces it. its a waste for rooted phones atleast.

Kannon Yamada

Good tips!

With root you can install Greenify – generally speaking, it’s highly effective at reducing your phone’s power consumption. It’s not an app-killer, which does have the negative impacts that you described, but rather it’s an app-suspender. The difference, I’m told, is that while app-killers do stop apps from running, these apps eventually restart.

A suspender will allow the program to run in the background, but it’s in a suspended state, meaning it doesn’t actively draw on your phone’s resources, such as data or Wi-Fi. I’ve used it and it works well, although if you don’t install junk apps, you probably don’t need this program.

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rickarani

Good article. Disabling sync in your phone can prevent google from downlaoding background data without your knowledge hence hogging your data and battery.

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Taha Ben Ali

Thank you I am interested in Android

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Elaine Czarnecki

Thnks for all of your great(not to mention free) info!

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Jon Procter

Would be nice if you did one for Windows Phone :)

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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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Tom Six

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

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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.

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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.

Reply

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!

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