Privacy has increasingly been one of Google’s biggest focuses over the past few years. Over 2.5 billion devices are running Android around the world, and such a big install base means there’s a lot of unwanted interest from threat actors. That’s why each new version of Android adds features to ensure your sensitive information is available only to you. Android 12, the latest version of Android set to be unveiled tomorrow at Google I/O 2021, will reportedly introduce new privacy features including more easily accessible privacy controls.
With Android 11 released last year, apps are not allowed by default to grab your location in the background. In fact, they’re blocked from requesting permission if the user already rejected it multiple times. Furthermore, one-time permissions were added so that apps by default don’t get permanent access to sensitive permissions. Google also recently announced plans to add a “safety” section to Google Play, which is similar in concept to Privacy Labels in Apple’s App Store. With that in mind, a new report out today by The Information claims that Google is taking “baby steps” on shoring up phone privacy. The publication cites “a person who has seen the planned presentation” and reports that Google “plans to preview coming privacy controls that will make it easier for smartphone users to reach a settings screen where they can restrict apps’ abilities to access the phone’s camera, location and other permissions.”
The description of these changes is rather vague, but we did some digging and believe they may be referring to a new privacy dashboard screen where users can more easily restrict apps’ ability to access the phone’s camera, location, and other permissions. We were sent a demo of what this new “privacy dashboard” screen may look like in Android 12. Here are some screenshots:
This new privacy dashboard screen gives users information on how frequently components such as the camera, microphone, and location are accessed by apps, and it also lets users know which apps are accessing them, how often they’re accessing them, and lets users revoke those permissions if they think they’re accessing them too often.
Despite these changes, The Information notes that advertisers will still be able to create profiles of Android users based on how they use apps across their smartphones to read, shop, play games, and interact with friends. However, Google is apparently still considering adding more stringent, iOS-like restrictions to cut down on tracking. Still, Android 12’s privacy dashboard, if implemented as we’ve shown today, will be a great change in the right direction, and it’s good to see Google double down on privacy in their ecosystem.
We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update this article if we hear back.