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Google will soon tell you exactly how much user data its iPhone apps collect

Published Jan 6th, 2021 7:31AM EST
Google App Privacy Labels
Image: blackzheep/Adobe

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  • Google will soon update its iPhone apps with the new privacy labels that tell users how much personal data an application can collect.
  • The new privacy feature caused quite a stir recently. Facebook vehemently opposes Apple’s privacy initiative that informs users about what kind of user data is collected and how app users are tracked.
  • A story earlier this week said Google might have delayed updates to its iOS apps to postpone adding privacy labels to its apps. Like Facebook, Google collects a large amount of user data for advertising purposes.

Apple’s app privacy label is a brand new iOS feature that users will find on the iPhone and iPad. They’re like nutrition labels on food packaging, but they tell you what sort of personal data an app can collect, offering you more insight into how you’re being tracked. To access the feature, you’ll have to go to the App Store, choose an app, and then scroll down to the App Privacy section of the app’s description, where you’ll see what data the app will collect.

A comparison earlier this week showed us the terrifying amount of personal information Facebook Messenger needs, compared to competing apps like Signal, iMessage, and Facebook’s WhatsApp. Facebook has attacked Apple as the privacy feature rolled out in early December, claiming that the move would hurt small businesses that depend on personalized ads, which are only possible thanks to such data collections. Facebook and Google both collect plenty of user data that power more lucrative advertising options. But only Facebook went after Apple. Not only did Google stay quiet on the matter, but a report the other day speculated that Google had been quietly protesting the change by not updating its iPhone apps since early December. It turns out Google will soon release its own app privacy labels.

Apple requires all developers to submit privacy labels as of December 8th. Google updated its iPhone apps a day earlier, prompting Fast Company to speculate that Google hasn’t released any other updates to delay those privacy labels.

We explained at the time that we might be looking at a coincidence. Google can’t be happy with the privacy labels because they’ll highlight all the ways Google is tracking you on the iPhone and iPad. And Google has been tracking users across its apps for years, infringing user privacy along the way numerous times. But the app privacy label rollout occurred in December, which is usually a busy month. Add the novel coronavirus pandemic, and you end up with one of the most stressful times of the year.

After the Fast Company report, TechCrunch has discovered that Google had updated two iPhone apps out of nearly 100 in mid-December, a week after the cut-off. These are Google Slides and Socratic.

The tech blog also notes that Google goes on a code freeze in late December through early January to prevent major issues with products at a time when the staff is on holiday. Furthermore, the App Store was closed from December 23rd o December 27th for its annual break. App Stores are very busy around the holidays when many people get new phones for Christmas or gift cards good for digital purchases. Disrupting app functionality during the period would be counterintuitive.

A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch that Google plans to add privacy labels across its app catalog as soon as this week or next week. Even if Google was trying to delay the inevitable, app privacy labels are exactly that, inevitable. Google wouldn’t risk having its apps delisted from the App Store. Will Google’s data collection practices be as horrifying as Facebook’s? That’s a question for this week or next week.

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.