Google Reverses Course on Play Store Permissions Change

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Installing apps on your smartphone means giving up some degree of privacy. Until recently, Google’s Play Store showed you all the permissions an app might request, but Google recently dropped that in favor of the developer-provided Data Safety box. Having developers divulge their plans for your data is a good thing, but relying on that exclusively to inform consumers is a very bad thing. Google seems to get that now — the company has announced that the full permission list is returning to the Play Store. 

Google started allowing developers to fill in the Data Safety box several weeks ago, and it became mandatory on July 20th. This feature includes information on what data an app collects, as well as how developers use (or don’t use) that data. Google decided that Data Safety, which is akin to Apple’s Privacy Nutrition Labels, would replace the full list of permissions derived from the app itself. Now it’s going back on that and says the app permission section is returning to the Play Store. 

In some ways, you can understand Google’s original intentions here. Apps can present a huge number of permissions, many of which will go unused. For example, just because an app can request your location or access to the camera does not mean that it will, until you access the features that require it. Seeing these permissions cited in the Play Store can make apps seem more snoopy than they actually are. 

However, Data Safety gives the developer final say in what is communicated to users. Google says it will take action if it believes the information to be incorrect, but there’s no way for it to competently review the Data Safety box for every app in the Play Store. Most developers have good intentions, but not all do. 

Google said the permission section will be back “shortly” on Thursday. So far, it’s not appearing in the Play Store on phones or the web for me at this time. Even in the absence of the Play Store permission list, you can always see an app’s permissions in the settings on your phone. Data Safety isn’t going anywhere, though, and it will continue to be prominently displayed. You should not take this reversal as evidence that Data Safety isn’t trustworthy — it can provide useful information that isn’t revealed in a plain list of permissions. It’s just nice to have both.

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