Google Play Apps Will Disclose How Much They Know About You

But do people really care?

  • All apps on the Google Play Store will now share details about their data collection and data sharing practices.
  • Google says the details will help users make informed decisions about using an app.
  • Experts think most people will simply ignore the details and continue to install the app.
Flat vector illustration depicting app security.

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Do you ever wonder what your favorite Android app knows about you and who it’s sharing that information with?

To put your mind at ease, the Google Play Store has begun displaying privacy labels on all its apps to give people more visibility into their data collection policies. The information will be listed under a new Data Safety section on the Play Store, and though it was announced in May last year, it has only just begun rolling out.

"As a privacy-conscious informed consumer, having Google's provided labels aids in decision making," Melissa Bischoping, Endpoint Security Research Specialist at Tanium, told Lifewire over email. "Additionally, the labels may prompt people to begin making privacy-conscious choices, as well as urge developers to design with security."

Consumer Is King

The Data Safety section will share exactly what data an app collects, and also disclose what data it shares with third parties. It also shares details about the app's security practices and the security mechanisms its developers employ to protect the collected data. Moreover, it’ll also tell people whether they have the option to ask the developer to delete their collected data, for instance, when they stop using the app. 

Altogether, Google believes these details should be enough to help people decide if they feel comfortable installing the app.

"We heard from users and app developers that displaying the data an app collects, without additional context, is not enough," said Google while announcing the rollout. "Users want to know for what purpose their data is being collected and whether the developer is sharing user data with third parties."

The feature is rolling out now on the Play Store, and Google has asked app developers to list all the necessary data collection details on their apps by July 20, 2022.

Too Little Too Late?

If the feature sounds familiar, it’s because Apple rolled out something very similar in December 2020. 

In an email exchange with Lifewire, Colin Pape, founder of decentralized search engine, Presearch, said that while privacy labels on app stores from Apple and Google may sound like a proactive effort from big tech companies to create transparency around data collection, he’s disappointed that such a simple feature took years to happen. 

True progress from tech will come when all products become private by default...

Chris Hauk, consumer privacy champion at Pixel Privacy, agreed. Although the privacy labels feature hasn't rolled out in his area in Tennessee, he believes if Google follows Apple's lead, the information offered by the labels will only really help a handful of people.

"Unfortunately, many users are guilty of checking "I agree" boxes without reading the text they are agreeing to, meaning there will likely be many users that will install apps without first perusing the privacy labels," said Hauk.

School of Thought

Bischoping believes the labels are only useful when people are empowered with knowledge to think critically about using this information.

"The challenge with any metric like this is that it can be confusing to many consumers of the product, so adding an element of advocacy, education, and awareness for the general public is essential," noted Bischoping.

Worried young man reading bad news on smart phone

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Richard Taylor, CTO of Approov, believes a better option would’ve been to introduce a mechanism whereby the analysis can be delegated to a third party chosen by the user. 

"This third party's job would be to interpret the statement on the data gathering performed by the app and then make a recommendation or provide some kind of privacy "star rating" to the user," Taylor told Lifewire over email. 

He believes such an addition would not only provide more useful and actionable information to people but also force app developers to improve the privacy stance of their apps.

Looking at the issue from a larger perspective, Pape thinks that instead of such band-aid measures, the tech industry should take a more ground-level approach to addressing people’s concerns around privacy. 

"True progress from tech will come when all products become private by default, meaning factory settings protect user IP addresses, device information, and location data," said Pape.

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