Google’s Play Store hosts the single most extensive collection of Android apps on the internet. It is the preferred source of apps for the vast majority of Android users around the world.
Unfortunately, many apps on the Play Store come with sketchy privacy practices. Your data could be secretly harvested, shared with third parties, or used for malicious purposes.
Although Google has always tried to enforce user-friendly privacy rules, it has only seen limited success. However, the company has now come up with new privacy policies for Play Store apps, but would it work?
A New Data Safety Section for the Play Store
In April 2022, a Google blog post detailed a new privacy feature coming to the Play Store. It’s a “Data safety” section for apps where developers would have to declare whether their apps are collecting users’ data and for what purpose. It is pretty similar to the Privacy Nutrition Label used in Apple’s App Store. However, Google plans to make the Play Store’s version more informative.
While Apple’s data safety labels only list what data an app uses, Google wants Android developers to also explain why they’re using the data. For example, if an app gets your location data, Google wants developers to inform the users what that app uses that data for and whether or not they share that data with third parties.
The new data safety section will give Android developers a space on their app page to declare:
- Whether an app is collecting data and for what purpose.
- The security mechanism used to protect users’ data and whether they can request for their data to be deleted.
- Whether an app developer would share collected data with third parties.
- Whether a developer’s security practices are in line with global standards.
- Whether certain qualifying apps adhere to Google Play’s Families policy to protect minors who use the Play Store.
Although the Play Store is generally safe, the new data safety section aims to improve the transparency of privacy practices used by apps published on the Play Store. Although some apps have started displaying the new data safety label, most apps are yet to do so.
Google says Android developers have until July 20th, 2022, to comply with the new rules. So, you can expect most apps to start displaying the label in the coming weeks.
Will the New Feature Make Play Store Apps More Trustworthy?
Google gets a lot of heat for the sketchy privacy practices of apps on the Play Store. There’s always some news of a Play Store app that’s maliciously harvesting user data from time to time. The app developers typically take most of the heat, but Google is usually not left out of the blame.
Although the company has introduced and enforced a wide range of user-friendly privacy rules for Play Store apps over the years, the privacy and data safety problems still linger. It is one of the main reasons why some apps are removed from the Play Store. So, would the latest addition solve the problem?
Google’s new Play Store feature is mostly a cosmetic solution. From a practical standpoint, it is unlikely to solve the problem because it’s like asking developers who would want to steal your data to declare that they want to steal your data. Besides that, Google hasn’t included new ways to ensure that collected data is used for what it says on the label.
Google does not have a fool-proof method to ensure that only the declared data is collected. An app developer could claim that the location data it collects is used to “improve its services” when, in reality, it is used to better target its adverts to you. Also, an app developer could say it collects only a certain kind of data but secretly collects other information.
Despite its reputation for adopting strict data safety practices, Apple has been struggling with ways to ensure iOS app developers only collect data they declare on their app’s privacy page. Some iOS apps have still secretly collected and transferred users’ data despite declaring otherwise in their app privacy sections. Google faces a similar problem with the Play Store.
It is unclear whether Google has more effective ways to ensure that developers only collect the data they declare. If it does, it will be a major victory for Android users. And if not, Play Store users will have to take the words of app developers.
Play Store’s Data Safety Section Has Some Potential
Whether Google has new ways to enforce truthfulness or not, Play Store users will have some idea about apps before installing them. For instance, if an app developer declares that it collects and shares the personal information of its users, it gives people who want to install that app an option. They’ll be able to decide whether they are okay with such practices or not before installing the app.
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