Last week, Google started more widely rolling out the new “Data Safety” screen in the Play Store, and it made waves in the tech world when we found out that the new section was a replacement for the normal app permissions display, not a new screen in addition to it. After the negative public reaction to the news, the official Android Developers Twitter account promised to revert the change and let the permissions screen display side by side with the new Data Safety display.
“Data Safety” is a new Play Store section that lets developers list what data an app collects, how that data is stored, and who the data is shared with. You can see how Google came to the conclusion that Data Safety was an acceptable replacement for an app permissions list. The two sections have a lot of overlap—for instance, you’ll probably see “location” on both screens if an app requests your location. The problem is with Google’s implementation of these two screens. The app permissions list is a factual, computer-generated record of what permissions an app can request, while the Data Safety section is written by the developer. You can’t cheat the app permissions list, while Data Safety runs on the honor system.
Here’s Google’s full statement:
Privacy and transparency are core values in the Android community. We heard your feedback that you find the app permissions section in Google Play useful, and we’ve decided to reinstate it. The app permissions section will be back shortly. The Data Safety section provides users with a simplified view of how an app collects, shares, & secures user data, but we also want to make app permissions information easily viewable for users to understand an app’s ability to access specific restricted data & actions too. We will continue to take in feedback and work closely with the developer community to prioritize data privacy and transparency for users.
Google is a very data-hungry company, and the removal of the permissions screen was one more papercut for people trying to protect their privacy. Reinstating the permissions screen is a Band-Aid fix, and it still seems like Google should just apply its permissions detection to the Data Safety screen and then require developers to add details about why the data is collected and how it’s stored. Google already built an automated permissions detection system, and instead of throwing the whole thing out, it could just let developers add details to it.
While the Data Safety section depends on developers not lying, Google says it “may take appropriate action” if it “becomes aware of a discrepancy” in a developer’s description. What you think of the Data Safety section depends on what you think of Google’s ability to police its own app store. There is a ton of evidence that Google often leaves Play Store policing on autopilot.
Listing image by Google Play Store