Android officially launched a new safety feature today: The Data safety section requires developers to label their apps to tell customers what data will be collected and how the data will be used.
Users should gain access to the Data safety section from within their Google Play account today, while developers will have until July 20 to impliment their own labels.
It's another app store safety feature that might help users avoid predatory data collection processes that once went barely-acknowledged under lengthy terms of service that few users actually read. Here's what to expect.
Data Safety Labels
The new rules are designed not just to show what data any given app is collecting, but to put that information into useful context: Users will be told the purpose their data will be used for, if it will be shared with third parties as part of that process, and what security the data will be kept under.
Google lists five bullet points in its announcement post, summing up the information that each label will have at launch:
- Whether the developer is collecting data and for what purpose.
- Whether the developer is sharing data with third parties.
- The app’s security practices, like encryption of data in transit and whether users can ask for data to be deleted.
- Whether a qualifying app has committed to following Google Play’s Families Policy to better protect children in the Play store.
- Whether the developer has validated their security practices against a global security standard (the MASVS).
Apple's Working on Its App Store as Well
The concept of data privacy labels warning customers about exactly what they're enabling on their phone isn't a new one: Apple introduced its own labels late in 2020, comparing them to the nutrition labels that help customers determine what is in the food they eat.
That said, just adding a label doesn't ensure that it is telling the truth. Last year, a Washington Post report performed a spotcheck and found that many of the App Store's labels were completely false, saying that the app didn't collect data that it in fact did gather.
This week, reports surfaced that Apple is deleting swaths of apps in its App Store, citing a lack of updates as the reason in their emails to app developers. It's an indicatation that Apple is boosting precautions at the same time that Google is rolling out new security measures itself.
Staying Safe Online
Labels are better than nothing, and they do serve to provide a papertrail for any malicious apps in either app store. If they lied, it'll be obvious to anyone who checks that they're acting in bad faith.
But someone will have to check, and that's a time-consuming job given the sprawling size of both the App Store and the Google Play store.
We'll have to wait to see how well the new labels help guide customers through the Play store and away from malicious apps like the password-stealing Play store app that was downloaded 100,000 times before deletion.