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Android 12 adds a great privacy feature iPhone owners will recognize

Published Mar 23rd, 2021 6:15PM EDT
Android 12 Features
Image: Arthur Shevtsov/Adobe

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Apple’s relentless push for better privacy and security features for iPhone has forced Google to follow suit. Google has been ramping up its own efforts to improve the privacy and security of Android devices starting on Android 10, and the company plans additional features for the upcoming Android 12 update. Some of these new privacy features leaked in the days leading up to the first Android 12 developer beta. Now that the Developer Preview release is available, developers have been able to confirm that the leak was accurate.

Android 12 will tell users if an app has access to the camera or microphone, which could help them figure out if an app might be spying on them. The feature is already available on iPhone and iPad, as Apple introduced it last year with the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 updates.

An orange or green indicator appears in the iPhone’s top left corner every time an app uses the microphone or the camera. That’s a neat visual aid to tell you that an application can access voice and/or video data from your phone. If you authorized the app to access such data, no action is required. But if you find those indicators lighting up on your phone when you’re not using apps that should have access to the microphone/camera, you can take immediate action.

Android 12 would get similar privacy protection, a recent leak claimed. The Developer Preview all but confirms it:

Google has implemented the feature in a similar manner, down to color choices and placement. The feature is “much more polished” than the hidden implementation in Android 11, according to developer kdrag0n.

If an orange pill appears in the top left corner of the phone, an app uses the microphone. Green means that the camera is accessed. Tapping the notification would open an actual window, as seen in the images above, that shows exactly what apps are accessing the camera and/or microphone. The user can then revoke permissions and take additional actions. Needless to say that if an app is using the camera and/or microphone without your knowledge, it might be spying on you, and you should delete it immediately.

The feature will be available to more users once the first Android 12 public beta rolls out later this spring. But it’s ultimately up to Google to decide whether it’ll make it into the final Android 12 build that should launch in late summer.

One can argue that Google isn’t necessarily copying Apple here, as the feature was tested for Android 11. But it ultimately doesn’t matter as long as the same privacy protections are in place. And the similar color coding will make the move between iPhone and Android even easier.

iOS 14 contains two other major privacy features that have caused some concern among companies who track users for a living. Facebook and Google are in this group. iOS 14 forces developers to inform users what data they’re collecting (app privacy labels) and ask for permissions to be tracked (app tracking transparency). It’ll be interesting to see if Android 12 will replicate these features. A recent leak said Google is working on milder versions of these anti-tracking features for Android. After all, Google might be seeking feature parity with iOS when it comes to privacy and security, but these privacy features can directly impact its ad revenue.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.