Now You Can Check How an Android App is Using Your Information

Now You Can Check How an Android App is Using Your Information
Google Play's new Data Safety section can help you navigate which apps are worth the download. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

The Google Play Data Safety section has started to roll out in the Play Store. The new area of the Play Store will show you the kind of data an Android app is accessing and whether it’s sharing it with third parties. It’ll also help you determine an app’s security practices and whether it’s safe enough for your kid to use.

The Data Safety section requires developers to disclose how an app is accessing the data on your Android phone. It’s more granular in how the collected data is used than you might expect, rather than simply saying an app has access to a particular information set and calling it a day. For instance, if an app needs your location data, the developer will have to disclose whether it’s your approximate location or your precise location that it needs to utilise. If the dev requires your personal information, you can check whether it’s for advertising and analytics or if it’s for the developer to add you to an email list to send out updates.

What the breakdown of the Data shared section looks like.  (Image: Google)What the breakdown of the Data shared section looks like. (Image: Google)

Parents will be able to see if an app corresponds with Google Play’s Family Policy, which is vital if you want to be able to leave your kid alone with a device. As a parent, I’ve trusted the Family Policy so far in allowing my kid unsupervised use of an Android tablet — it helps that she doesn’t read yet and doesn’t know how to type. But it’s worth noting that it doesn’t cut off Google’s apps, namely YouTube, and you’ll still have to pursue other parental controls if you’re looking to block off access to other elements of the Android OS. I would also suggest setting up Google’s Kids Space.

In addition to explaining its data access, Google will show you if an app has validated its security practices against Mobile Application Security Assessment (MASVS). This is a baseline security criterion for developers, authorised through Google. It’s an extra step that can help if you’re looking at an app with outdated assets and you’re wondering if it’s safe to download.

Google’s Play Safety section is not a new concept. Google announced the feature was coming to Android devices last year. Android users have been waiting for this feature since Apple announced it required it in the App Store.

The idea behind these new data safety features is to allow you to passively consent before you hit the button to install an Android app. Google says these features help give users “more visibility” in what apps are doing in the background.

Of course, it’s up to developers to disclose what’s going on behind the scenes of their apps. Not all apps will have a detailed readout yet, even as the Play Store feature starts rolling out today. Developers have until July 20 to get their Play Store listings together for the policy change.