As tech giants come under fire for facilitating the widespread collection and sale of personal data, Google has read the room and will add new privacy features to Android. In the next version of the operating system, called Android Q, apps will need explicit permission to track users’ locations while running in the background. Android Q will also limit access to hardware information (presumably to stop device fingerprinting), and will no longer track “affinity” for contacts, which means apps won’t be able to see who users interact with the most.
Apple has already adopted many of these features in iOS and MacOS as the company turns privacy into a key selling point. Most notably, iOS users have been able to limit background location access since 2017, while Android’s location access has been all-or-nothing. As the New York Times reported in December, popular apps like The Weather Channel and TheScore have in turn been selling that location data to marketers. With U.S. lawmakers starting to think about new privacy laws, it behooves Google to get in front of the issue.
Having said all that, Android phone makers have a poor track record of updating their software in a timely manner, if at all. Unless you’re using one of Google’s Pixel phones, which can now beta-test an early version of Android Q, you might not see these privacy improvements for quite some time.