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If you value your privacy, you might want to delete this Google app from your iPhone

Published Jun 15th, 2021 3:02PM EDT
iOS 15 Features
Image: Apple Inc.

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More than ever, users expect their electronics to keep their data private. Apple is at the forefront of the latest privacy push, with the iPhone maker having introduced various features to improve privacy and security over the years. The app privacy labels and anti-tracking features built into iOS 14 are the best examples of what improved privacy looks like. iOS 15 adds a few more notable privacy improvements as well, including a VPN-like service that will be bundled with the premium iCloud+ subscription.

Called Private Relay, the new service will make it impossible for advertisers to track iPhone and iPad users browsing the web on Safari. Private Relay is even better than a regular VPN service, as the companies (Apple and a third-party provider) that anonymize and encrypts the internet traffic can’t see that traffic. Some VPN providers might be privy to that personal information; that’s why Private Relay is a better alternative to protecting users’ privacy. But if you value your privacy and plan to use Smart Relay when iOS 15 rolls out of beta, you might have to delete a great Google app from your iPhone.

One of the side effects of Apple’s tremendous interest in privacy is Google having to develop similar privacy-protecting features for Android. That’s more problematic for the Mountain View-based company as Google makes most of its cash from advertising. It’s personalized ads that bring in the most money, and you can’t deliver personalized ads as efficiently if you have to match Apple’s privacy features blow for blow.

Google makes some of the most popular apps and services, and most of them are available free of charge for users. They’re free exactly because Google makes money off of personal data, which is monetized via ads. And Google’s apps are available across virtually every platform, from Android to Windows to iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.

Google also makes the world’s most popular browser, and Chrome gets better with every update. However, Chrome is at the center of a controversial privacy change that involves switching from third-party cookies to a new FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) system. FLoC has been widely criticized, with non-profits like the EFF and other web browser developers (Brave, Vivaldi, Microsoft, and Mozilla) having voiced their concerns about it.

Mozilla is the latest company to look at Chrome’s FLoC technology, which is currently tested in beta, having published a technical analysis warning that FLoC might not be perfect. The technology might allow advertisers to fingerprint users and continue to track them online despite Google’s best efforts.

Mozilla further explained the dangers of FLoC fingerprinting to Forbes, saying that current fingerprinting techniques could be combined with FloC to track users online.

When Private Relay rolls out, it will only work on Safari, protecting iPhone and iPad users from having their browsing histories mined for advertising purposes. Those users who rely on Chrome to get online on iOS and iPadOS will not benefit from the same protections. The FLoC rollout might expose them to additional fingerprinting. That’s the point Mozilla made in its privacy analysis of FloC and the message Forbes’ piece conveys.

The only way to prevent it might be removing Chrome from iPhone and iPad if you plan to pay for Private Relay protection once iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 rolls out. That might be easier said than done for people who use Chrome across devices and operating systems for their internet-related chores. And since Private Relay will also work in macOS 12 Monterey, iPhone and iPad users who remove Chrome from their mobile devices might want to switch from Chrome to Safari on their Macs as well.

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.