Google’s Sluggish Response to Privacy Labelling for Its iOS Apps

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

On January 5, Google told TechCrunch that [privacy labelling] would be added to its iOS apps “this week or the next week,” but both this week and the next week have come and gone with no update. It has now been well over a month since Google last updated its apps.

When it said that an update was coming soon, Google gave no reason for the delay, and still has not offered up an explanation for the lengthy period of time between app updates. Google typically pushes updates much more frequently across its catalog of apps, and its Android apps have continued to be updated regularly.

A handful of Google’s apps have gained privacy labels. Clover mentions Translate, Authenticator, Motion Stills, Google Play Movies, and Google Classroom; in addition, I also found that Wear OS, Smart Lock, and Stadia have privacy labels. None have been updated with a new version in the last month.

I am skeptical that the potential for negative press coverage is a reason for Google to delay app updates when there is a much simpler explanation. A review of the version histories for Google’s most popular apps1 shows that there are sometimes big gaps in updates over the holidays. In 2019, Chrome was last updated on December 10, and it took until February 5 for the next version to be released. It is a similar story for Google News, which had a gap from December 9, 2019 until February 6, 2020, while Hangouts went from September 2019 until the end of February 2020 without an update.

Now, a caveat: the App Store only shows twenty-five of the most recent updates. I do not know why that is the case; it is a frustrating limitation in this case specifically. Some of Google’s apps were updated nearly every week at different points in 2020, so it was not possible for me to go back far enough.

I doubt this is nefarious. Apple has a limited number of categories in its privacy labelling feature, so the labels for some of its most popular apps will be similar to Facebook’s — or possibly a little better. Facebook may have been the subject of attention when it was required to be more up front about how much user data it collected, so much that it replied with a full-page newspaper ad. But the negative press coverage over Facebook’s privacy labels died off after a couple of days, and I doubt it has remained in the public conscience.

These privacy labels are certainly helpful for many apps. But everyone already knows that Facebook and Google treat your personal data as an all-you-can-eat buffet. I doubt Google is avoiding the inevitable, simply because it has little reason to do so. Just think of it as a holiday delay.

  1. Which, by the way, revealed to me that Apple continues to have a problem with App Store comment spam. What is the value of comments on the App Store, really? I say switch them off. ↥︎