What this means for users

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What is happening? Google removed the ability to display permission information for Android apps on its Play Store listings earlier in June 2022. Instead, this field has been replaced with a “data security” form which is optional for developers to fill out and which is, therefore, usually left blank. . Previously, a user could see the features of a user’s smartphone that an app would use before downloading and installing the app.

What is authorization information? Every app on any smartphone needs to use certain features offered on the phone, such as internet connectivity, camera, geolocation, hard drive access, and more. For example, a payment application like Phonepe or PayTM would need access to contacts (for easier UPI transfers), camera (for QR code scanning), and among others. On the other hand, a social media platform such as Instagram or Facebook would require access to hard drive (to upload photos), camera (to take photos), geotagging (to tag location in a message), etc. Until early 2022, Google and Apple – the world’s two largest makers of smartphone operating systems – used to require apps listed on their stores to tell users what features the app would have access to before the download.

Why is this important? Mandatory permission information lets users see exactly what they would sign up for if they downloaded an app. This allowed potential users to then decide whether access to sensitive information such as location or address book was worth downloading. Essentially, this is an essential measure of transparency regarding how the app works, but without this field being required, many developers fail to fill out this form, thus corroding store transparency and by extension losing trust users.

Why did Google remove the permission information? While Google itself hasn’t offered any explanation as to why it changed its policy, privacy researcher and Linux generalist Kingsly John believes it could be a move to follow Apple which also brought similar changes, although Apple has made it mandatory for all developers on its store to follow the changes or be removed. “However, there has been a dark pattern in Google apps for many years now,” he noted, “The Play Store allows apps to pretend they don’t need additional permissions so as not to not deter a user, but to then demand the same on the steal when a user has no choice but to comply. For example, instant loan apps such as MPokket or Navi previously displayed “no additional permission required” on their download pages, but to qualify for a loan, a user must give these apps access to their contacts, camera, phone management, and hard drive of their device. Since mandate has been removed, these apps show “no information available” on their data security fields.

Do Apple and Microsoft also have similar policies? As mentioned earlier, Apple has also removed app permissions information from its App Store and replaced it with an “App Privacy” section, which, although mandatory and much more descriptive than before, is still misleading because she quotes location, purchase history. , financial and contact information as “unlinked” data to the user. Meanwhile, Microsoft, which is no longer in the phone market, still maintains a PC app store that includes information about required permissions on the download page. However, unlike Apple, the authorization information on the Microsoft Store is too general and does not contain all app-specific details.

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