After Google+ debacle, here’s how Google is protecting user data

By Prarthana Mitra

Taking a leaf out of Apple’s developer policy manual, Google shocked e-commerce companies, technology firms, and startups this week, by tightening their user consent policies and third-party app rules.

What does the new policy entail?

In a blog post on October 8, Google said only Android applications that users select as their ‘default apps’ for making calls or texting will be able to request access to such data. Limited exceptions may be made if an app provides a highly compelling or critical feature transparently, without an alternative method to provide the feature.

In the same blog post, Google announced it will shut down Google+ entirely, but more on that later.

Besides limiting an app’s access to call logs and text messages, Google will now enlighten the user in detail about the permissions a user is required to give to use any app. Instead of a single screen notice, apps that allow users to log in via Google’s sign-on feature will have to display each permission request lucidly in separate dialog boxes.

Whom does this affect?

The global search engine delivered a potentially huge blow to corporations that have banked on the data collected from users’ call logs and texts, to ascertain consumer patterns and optimise ads for the user.

It will also disrupt lending and financial services companies that use such data to determine customer credit scores. “Google’s decision to prohibit apps from accessing SMS logs and call data records of its users will have a huge significant effect on fintech firms in India, something none of them were prepared for,” said Kunal Shah, founder of payments startup Freecharge.

This ends an era of what activists have often called an indiscriminate violation of privacy with dangerous implications like data mining, harvesting and surveillance.

Why was it necessary?

Smartphone usage pattern provides a huge advantage to startups in building customised products, but the ethical fallout of such free access can no longer be ignored, especially after Cambridge Analytica. Google got embroiled in a controversy about data storage and breach itself. After the private data of some Google-plus users were mysteriously leaked and accessed by hundreds of third-party apps, the Alphabet-owned tech company decided to restrict permissions to developers accessing individuals’ personal data.
Henceforth, app developers have to be careful about the permission policy before submitting their designs, but the biggest jolt is perhaps reserved for GMail app developers. From the users’ perspective, this move will restrict apps from asking for inane and intrusive permissions that are not necessary for functioning. It is particularly significant in countries like India where people are not conversant with privacy laws and data implications, and consequently grant permissions to third-party apps freely.
“Ultimately, it will come down to how strictly and fairly Google implements these changes across its Play store and across companies, large and small,” a venture capital investor told ET. “This is a bold move from Google,” another anonymous source told the publication, “If they do crack down on this seriously, everyone from large players such as Flipkart and Paytm to smaller ones will be affected.”

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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