Google may be skirting Apple's privacy disclosures by not updating iOS apps [u]

Posted:
in iOS edited January 2021
Google hasn't updated its iOS apps since early December while still keeping its Android apps up to date, in what could be an attempt to avoid supplying information for the App Store's privacy nutrition labels.

YouTube's App Store listing showing a blank App Privacy section
YouTube's App Store listing showing a blank App Privacy section


Google has not made any updates to its apps running on iOS from December 8 onwards. The version history listings for major apps such as Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, and other services all list their last updates as December 7, 2020 or earlier.

First spotted by Fast Company on Tuesday and confirmed by AppleInsider, a representative group of 15 popular apps from Google all show the last update as occurring on or before December 7. In some cases, like YouTube, the pre-December 7 update was the last following a regular update schedule that was consistent throughout 2020, with the pattern now broken.

While it would be feasible to suggest the updates were paused due to the holidays, it seems unlikely, as many of the same apps received Android updates. Gmail for Android was last updated on December 16, while YouTube's Google Play listing shows an update from December 21.

Privacy Policy Changes?

The Fast Company report notes that the mass December 7 Google app update was the day before Apple implemented a new policy ordering developers to supply privacy-related information about their apps, which would be displayed within the App Store. These "nutrition labels" would tell users of the kinds of data being collected by an app or a connected third-party firm, if they are used for tracking purposes, and an idea of how the data may be used.

According to Apple's policies, it will allow an app to remain in the App Store without displaying this privacy-related information, but developers must provide the details if they wish to submit an update.

At the time of publication, zero of the 15 selected apps show any information under the App Privacy section of the App Store listing. Instead, the store listing states there are "No Details Provided," adding that "The developer will be required to provide privacy details when they submit their next app update."

As it stands, it appears that Google is gaming the system with its apps, by pushing some of its updates to the last possible moment before the new rules were put in place. Doing so can buy it some time before it is forced to do so by a needed app update.

Google has yet to provide reasons for the delay in updating the apps. AppleInsider has contacted Google for clarification on the matter.

The tactic of holding back on updates to avoid providing the privacy-related information may prevent Google from becoming the subject of criticism, due to the potentially huge amount of data it constantly collects about its users. The labels serve to inform users of how their data is being harvested and used, something that Google may not necessarily want to have published, even in a limited fashion.

This concern hasn't stopped other companies from complying with Apple's requirement. Social media giant Facebook has a substantial number of items appearing in its Data Privacy listing, and it offers the information despite having a similar public opinion as Google regarding data harvesting and usage.

Update: A Google spokesperson informed TechCrunch that the search giant plans to add privacy labels to its various apps starting as soon as this week.
magman1979

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    I noticed that right away. I wanted to compare Apple Maps to Google Maps in the privacy disclosures part but couldn’t. I’ve checked back a couple of times but noticed the lack of updating.

    That can’t last forever. I suppose it’s easy enough for Apple to make a change to iOS that forces apps to require an update or cease working.
    magman1979watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 13
    thrangthrang Posts: 1,012member
    Well, this is would be an extremely small-windowed reason alone. Perhaps they are busy changing how the apps work in certain ways to be less offensive in this regard
    gatorguywatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 13
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    This concern hasn't stopped other companies from complying with Apple's requirement. Social media giant Facebook has a substantial number of items appearing in its Data Privacy listing, and it offers the information despite having a similar public opinion as Google regarding data harvesting and usage.

    I think Google knows that no one is going to stop using their app, even if it lights the camera while they're taking a shower.
    tokyojimukudumagman1979wg45678mike1zeus423watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 13
    thrang said:
    Well, this is would be an extremely small-windowed reason alone. Perhaps they are busy changing how the apps work in certain ways to be less offensive in this regard
    True, but it’s not like the privacy description came as a surprise to Google. Google must have known since June. It’s at least a little eyebrow raising that updates continued until the deadline to submit the privacy “nutrition label”. Perhaps they are working on less offensive apps but I’d be interested to see how the current apps would compare. 
    svanstromwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 13
    cloudguycloudguy Posts: 323member
    Google has entirely separate app development teams for Android, iOS and PC. Features frequently arrive on one of the 3 platforms before they get to the other two, and some features aren't present on some of the platforms at all. So the idea that Google is going to update iOS at the same time that they update Android is specious to begin with. (Apple fans used to have great fun pointing out how new features at times came to iOS before Android as it was used as evidence that Google was losing money on Android. After the Oracle trial debunked this, the chirping stopped.) Comparing Google to Facebook also makes no sense: they are very different companies who - until recently - did not get along and saw each other as competitors for ad dollars until they joined forces due to current political forces started targeting them for breakup due to needing scapegoats for Hillary Clinton losing in 2016. And Google has far more apps to maintain than Facebook does anyway.

    Also, Google is going to be forced to upgrade these apps eventually - or more like very soon - or else they will run afoul of their own Project Zero (Day), as most updates are due to security anyway. I can't imagine Google allowing Gmail, YouTube and Chrome going 60 days without security patches. 
    edited January 2021 muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 6 of 13
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 24,285member
    cloudguy said: Comparing Google to Facebook also makes no sense: they are very different companies who - until recently - did not get along and saw each other as competitors

    I think it's more a case of the enemy of my enemy...
  • Reply 7 of 13
    mac_dogmac_dog Posts: 1,070member
    Rayz2016 said:
    This concern hasn't stopped other companies from complying with Apple's requirement. Social media giant Facebook has a substantial number of items appearing in its Data Privacy listing, and it offers the information despite having a similar public opinion as Google regarding data harvesting and usage.

    I think Google knows that no one is going to stop using their app, even if it lights the camera while they're taking a shower.
    Seriously? Who the fuck takes a shower with their phone?
  • Reply 8 of 13
    focherfocher Posts: 687member
    mac_dog said:
    Rayz2016 said:
    This concern hasn't stopped other companies from complying with Apple's requirement. Social media giant Facebook has a substantial number of items appearing in its Data Privacy listing, and it offers the information despite having a similar public opinion as Google regarding data harvesting and usage.

    I think Google knows that no one is going to stop using their app, even if it lights the camera while they're taking a shower.
    Seriously? Who the fuck takes a shower with their phone?
    Who doesn’t?
    zeus423watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 13
    xbitxbit Posts: 391member
    I’d imagine that the new privacy nutrition information is going through Google’s lawyers and that’s the reason for the delay.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 13
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    mac_dog said:
    Rayz2016 said:
    This concern hasn't stopped other companies from complying with Apple's requirement. Social media giant Facebook has a substantial number of items appearing in its Data Privacy listing, and it offers the information despite having a similar public opinion as Google regarding data harvesting and usage.

    I think Google knows that no one is going to stop using their app, even if it lights the camera while they're taking a shower.
    Seriously? Who the fuck takes a shower with their phone?
    What d’you do for music?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 13
    ID0ID0 Posts: 15member
    I don't care, 0 Google apps installed, 0 F***book, etc...!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 13

    Update: A Google spokesperson informed TechCrunch that the search giant plans to add privacy labels to its various apps starting as soon as this week.
    I’ve still been occasionally checking Google Maps to see if there is an update, so far there hasn’t been.

    Right now, a quick check on the App Store shows “No Details Provided” under “App Privacy” for: Google Maps, Google Photos, Google Chrome, YouTube, YouTube Kids, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google, GMail, YouTube Music, YouTube TV, YouTube Studio. Maybe there are others, that’s just what I checked.

    I have no Google apps installed so I have no idea how frequently they would normally be updated. I have several apps from much smaller developers that have been updated multiple times since early December. 
  • Reply 13 of 13
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 24,285member

    Update: A Google spokesperson informed TechCrunch that the search giant plans to add privacy labels to its various apps starting as soon as this week.
    I’ve still been occasionally checking Google Maps to see if there is an update, so far there hasn’t been.

    Right now, a quick check on the App Store shows “No Details Provided” under “App Privacy” for: Google Maps, Google Photos, Google Chrome, YouTube, YouTube Kids, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google, GMail, YouTube Music, YouTube TV, YouTube Studio. Maybe there are others, that’s just what I checked.

    I have no Google apps installed so I have no idea how frequently they would normally be updated. I have several apps from much smaller developers that have been updated multiple times since early December. 
    I believe an article on another site had reported two Google Apps to be updated last week, tho I don't recall which two. I know they were not any of the more important ones like Maps or Search or Youtube. 

    Google may still be modifying their apps to collect less user data before posting the updates, or perhaps they are waiting for a calmer time to do so and hope not everyone notices at the same time. Personally I would guess it's the former, but TBH I've no idea. I think typically you would have seen some update by now. 
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