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Why you can’t know what Google tracks

Apple users were recently creeped out by a disturbingly long list detailing the amount of data Facebook’s mobile app collects on them, but it’s yet to be revealed how fellow big tech titan Google’s apps collect and use data.That’s because none of Google’s many apps have been updated on the iOS App Store to include…

Apple users were recently creeped out by a disturbingly long list detailing the amount of data Facebook’s mobile app collects on them, but it’s yet to be revealed how fellow big tech titan Google’s apps collect and use data.

That’s because none of Google’s many apps have been updated on the iOS App Store to include the information, and most of them haven’t received an update since the day before Apple’s new rule for the disclosures — required to deliver new apps and updates — came into effect.

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The curious timing has led some to speculate Google was trying to delay revealing the information, but a company spokesperson has told media the updates will be coming soon, potentially within a week.

Fast Company first noted Google hadn’t released any updates since December 7, the day before Apple’s rules kicked in on December 8.

It might not sound like it, but it’s a long time to go without a single update, bug fix or stability improvement for a Google developed app on the iOS store, and equivalent apps on the Android Play Store have received updates.

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Fast Company reported no one from Google would comment, but after publishing an unnamed Google spokesman reportedly told TechCrunch the company has a plan to add the privacy labels, which are expected to begin rolling out this week or next week, though no exact date was available.

TechCrunch also said two Google apps: The Sheets spreadsheet application and a homework helper called Socratic (not available in Australia), did receive updates after December 8, but they didn’t include privacy labels.

It also made mention of holiday shutdowns at both Apple and Google as a potential factor.

Asked by news.com.au about Google’s stance on the Apple policy change, whether it has had an effect on updates, and whether the company has a plan to achieve the same goals as Apple on the competing Android Play Store it runs, Google had nothing further to say besides pointing to background information in the TechCrunch article.

Apple’s new rules, announced in June last year, require developers to provide a “self-reported summary of how it uses your data”, in addition to complying with Apple’s guidelines on privacy and security.

It requires the disclosure of collection for data that is linked to you such as to your account, your device, or your details, as well as for data used to track you for the purpose of targeted advertising.

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Targeted advertising is the goose that lays Facebook and Google’s golden eggs (in this metaphor the eggs are the two firm’s respective annual multi-billion dollar superprofits that, while huge, don’t match those of Apple, which primarily sells consumer electronics and the software that runs on them).

Targeted advertising is also used on many other websites across the internet, with trackers that embed “pixels” — transparent images that can detect when a page or ad has been seen.

Facebook has previously railed against Apple’s changes, including through what you could call ironic full-page ads in newspapers, whose advertising models have been disrupted and decimated by targeted online ads.

It also told people trying to use its supercharged ad targeting machine to promote their small businesses that Apple’s changes “may significantly impact the way you can run ads, measure performance, and engage customers”.

Apple has also taken shots at Facebook recently, first with a letter to human rights organisations about Facebook’s “creepy” ad tracking from head of privacy Jane Horvath, then, with a tweet from CEO Tim Cook saying Facebook can continue tracking users as much as it wants, it just has to ask their permission first, and “explain why users should allow tracking”.

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