Android apps often collect all sorts of data about you and your device, such as your name and location, as well as sometimes accessing your photos or messages, among other things. Therefore, it is vital that you understand the degree of access an app will have before downloading it, something that has now become much more difficult to understand.
That’s because Google recently released a new feature called ‘Data Security’, which requires app developers to disclose the data their apps collect, whether the data is being shared with third parties, and the app’s security practices. This sounds like a promising step, and if this were just an addition it would be, but Google is also silently whitelisting apps from store listings.
This change was not announced by the company, but was detected by Mishaal Rahman (opens in new tab) (Sper senior technical editor).
This application whitelist was automatically generated by Google, which, while accurate, was not always clear about why specific permissions were required or data collected.
This new data security screen should, in many cases, be much clearer, as app developers can explain why they need various types of data, but since it’s up to those developers to fill in, there’s also a risk that the information become incomplete or inaccurate.
By having Both the data security and permissions screens would be more comprehensive, but could also make for a confusing and confusing listing, so we can see why Google might choose to show just one; it is unclear whether this was the right decision.
In most cases, this probably won’t be a big issue, although unscrupulous app developers now have more freedom to hide their apps’ data collection practices, which is a definite concern.
Google has warned that if the data security screen is not complete and accurate, apps could have their updates blocked or even removed from the Play Store, but it is unclear how quickly or comprehensively Google will identify and take action against violators. .
Analysis: Google is not alone in leaving this to the developers
While this is a worrying move, it’s similar to something Apple is already doing, with its privacy ‘nutrition labels’ that app developers must fill out. The Washington Post (opens in new tab) however, it found that these labels were also often inaccurate, so there’s no reason to think that Google’s alternative won’t suffer the same fate.
The only advantage Android users have over iOS users in this situation is that they are not limited to the Google Play Store, and while it is generally considered the safest place to get apps, Rahman points out that third-party app stores such as Aurora Store still shows the whitelist of the app – something it is able to do because Google still collects this data behind the scenes.
As such, if you’re worried about this shift, it might be worth looking into an alternative app store that offers the insights and reassurance you need. Of course, most Android users will likely not know this is an option and will take the data shown in Google Play Store listings at face value – which may no longer be fully accurate and complete even among the best Android apps.