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Yesterday, when Android 12 Beta 5 rolled out, we spotted an apparent rebranding for Google's old Device Personalization Services, picking up the new Private Compute Core name. The stuff actually in that section of Settings remained the same, though, and Google told us the name would be a thing back when it announced Beta 2. Now the company is sharing more about its plans and what, precisely, a "Private Compute Core" means.
Outside the new name, the Private Compute Core is meant to be an isolated environment where certain features that might infringe on your privacy if abused can live. In essence, a ton of the features we love — things like Live Caption, Now Playing, Smart Reply, and even your software keyboard's better suggestions — need to use your private data to function correctly. They need to see what you're typing, hear what you're hearing, etc., and that's a potential problem. How can you make sure that the features respect your privacy? And even if you trust Google, do you trust everything in between you and them? Well, now Google is making that isolation even more clear, and it's making the grand (if vague) promise that Private Compute Core features are guaranteed to keep your data private, ostensibly isolated entirely from the rest of the OS in some undefined way.
The Private Compute Core in Settings on Android 12 Beta 5.
However, even if you value your privacy (and you should), some of these features can be further improved off-site, with the help of the big privacy-invading cloud, so Google is also introducing a new Private Compute Services to go with the Core that ensures the features work over open-source APIs, removing identifiable information, and imposting privacy-enhancing technologies when possible like Federated Learning and PIR protocols.
In short, the Private Compute Core isolates and handles settings for features that might rely on more of your data than you think, and the Private Compute Services ensures specific privacy-enhancing standards are met for anything that does need to be done off-device.
Right now, the Private Compute Core only manages a handful of things (the ones I mentioned specifically above), but Google says it plans to add more with future Android releases. As part of the change, all of those existing features will be publicly documented as well, and Google plans to publish the source code for those features for review by the security community — a change that could see enthusiasts bring some of them over to custom ROMs too, for all we know.
In the end, the Private Compute Core is more than just a rebranding effort, even though that's what it mostly looks like from a user-facing perspective digging through the Settings menu today. Android-using customers should see actual privacy benefits from regular third-party code reviews of the features, plus the defined standards for off-site computing. Privacy may not be sexy or easily marketable, but it matters more with every passing day and the growing interdependence between apps, services, and sites that surround us, all mining away for our personal data every single day.