Back in May, Google announced that the Play Store was also getting App Store-style privacy labels, one-upping Apple's implementation by requiring extra information about customer security, if user data can be deleted, and whether permissions are optional or required. Like it or hate it, the new "safety section," as Google calls it, will be mandatory for all apps on the Play Store, kicking into gear in Q2 2022. And today, Google is sharing a few more specifics on precisely how it will work, what it might look like, and how developers can prepare.
Apple and Google are each slow-stepping their ways to giving their customers more privacy options up front when they want to interact with apps. For example, Android has been offering users the choice to give specific permissions like access to location data to an app for one time only, while the app is in use, or not at all. With Android 12, users get to control how accurate the location data they give is.
Last year, Apple rolled out a new set of what it called Privacy Labels for the App Store. These disclaimers were sort of like privacy-oriented nutrition information attached to each app listing, with developers supplying the details regarding exactly what data their apps collect and precisely how it's used — assuming you trust them to be honest. The moment that news landed last year, expectations swung our collective attention at Google: When would Android and the Play Store get something similar?
The answer is "next year," assuming the tentative schedule Google for the new "safety section" announced today holds up. And based on the details provided, it might beat Apple when it comes to caring about your security instead of just your privacy.
Android 11 introduced a new file accessing API, Scoped Storage. It essentially doesn't allow apps to access all files on your phone anymore, which is great for security. However, Scoped Storage also comes with some unwanted consequences. Non-Pixel phones running Android 11 have to ask users to confirm that they want to delete or restore images in Google Photos since the app isn't allowed to delete and restore files without explicit user consent anymore. Luckily, there's a fix for some phones.
If you plan on buying a phone with Android 11 soon, you'll want to get used to your manufacturer's gallery app. And if you're going to be using Google Photos on something that's not a Pixel, be prepared to confirm every single thing you want to delete on the app. The reason why boils down to a new, well-intentioned policy in the operating system that leaves end users with some annoying consequences.
Android 11 Developer Preview 3 has a new setting for app permissions, allowing them to be automatically revoked if you don't use the app for long enough. Disabled by default, the descriptively-named "Auto revoke permissions" setting will revoke permissions for a given app if it isn't used "for a few months."
If you've used any of Google's voice services for Assistant, Maps, and Search, you will have gotten a lengthy notice about some major changes as to how and why it collects audio of what you say. These actions are a response to last year's revelations about how humans were contracted to review those clips and how some of them got leaked. The top-line takeaway here is that every user has been opted out of data collection.
Privacy is always a major concern, especially when there are shady apps out there that like to have constant access to your info. When Apple unveiled iOS 14 last month, one standout feature was access indicators, small symbols in the status bar that are displayed when either the camera or microphone are in use. Thanks to the developer of Energy Ring and Energy Bar, we can now enjoy a similar feature on Android.
Google tried to sneak scoped storage into Android 10, but developers weren't having it. This more restrictive (and secure) method of managing your internal storage is coming back in Android 11, but there will be a new "all files access" permission. Or rather, there was supposed to be. Google has updated its support page to clarify that Android 11 apps won't be able to use that permission until 2021.
Everyothermonth, a legitimate, useful app gets kicked off the Play Store while sleazy applications with bad intentions thrive. Google's removal algorithms often cite arbitrary reasons as in the recent case of Slide for Reddit. The third-party client was removed for including a screenshot of an article in its listing that contained the word "ISIS" (which had been there for years). The latest app to be hit by Google's automated patrol is YouMail, a visual voicemail service that offers spam call protection.