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October 11, 2017

OnePlus responds to OxygenOS data collection concerns

by John_A

Well this isn’t a great look — but there’s an explanation.

A concern from earlier this year over how much data OnePlus has been collecting has resurfaced this week, pointing to the fact OxygenOS on all recent OnePlus phones keeps track of all sorts of information on the phone and sends it back to the company. Despite this being something that’s been happening for some time on OnePlus phones and that’s several months since first being discovered, users have just now been reminded of it and are (rightfully) concerned over just how much is being collected and what’s being done with it.

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OnePlus, just like any other phone manufacturer, collects information on how your phone is being used, what apps are installed, and what issues may arise — and it’s often tied to that phone and your user account in particular. The report from earlier this year clearly shows how a OnePlus phone (a OnePlus 2 in this case) was collecting how long apps were used for, what Wi-Fi networks were being connected to, the phone’s associated user account and much more. It was sending the data back to OnePlus as well — and mostly for good reason, as it helps OnePlus improve its software and help with customer support should the need arise.

When asked for a comment on the matter, OnePlus responded with exactly as we’d expect:

We securely transmit analytics in two different streams over HTTPS to an Amazon server. The first stream is usage analytics, which we collect in order for us to more precisely fine tune our software according to user behavior. The second stream is device information, which we collect to provide better after-sales support.

While it may seem like a massive treasure trove of information that shouldn’t be leaving the phone, this sort of diagnostic and usage data is collected routinely, with rare exception, on smartphones. In this case, some of the data collection can actually be turned off. The first “stream” of information, which includes things like which apps are installed and how the software is used, can be disabled by going to Settings, Advanced and turning off “Join user experience program.” The second “stream” cannot be turned off, as is typical on phones.

Now the fact that this wasn’t something that was clearly explained to the user during setup or even in the settings where you turn it off is something that’s worth being a bit upset about. As is the fact that personally identifiable information like user accounts and IMEI numbers are being tied to the data, as shown by the research. But OnePlus is hardly alone in what it’s collecting from its phones, and the core issue of the data itself being collected isn’t something we should be surprised or alarmed by — and taking OnePlus as its word, it seems to be handling the data appropriately as well.

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