Google backtracks on Android app permissions after public outcry

Ever since app permissions were introduced in Android, the Google Play Store has listed all requested permissions in each app’s listings. Google started hiding the permissions section, but now the company is backtracking.

This week, Google confirmed on Twitter that it had removed the app permissions section from Google Play Store’s app listing pages, but the company “heard your feedback” and started bringing that section back.

In the early days of Android phones and tablets, the Play Store prominently displayed the full list of permissions requested by an app, including network access, your contacts, calls, Bluetooth, etc.) was that all permissions had to be granted before the app could be installed.

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Android 6.0 Marshmallow in 2015 introduced runtime permissions, which required apps to ask for every permission after installation (and allow them to be denied), rather than your phone or tablet granting them all automatically. Information on Play Store listings has therefore become less important: you are still notified if an app wants Bluetooth access (or something else), but only when the app asks for it, and no longer before installation. Google requires all new apps or updates to existing apps to support runtime permissions, using the target API level requirement.

More recently, Google introduced a “Data Security” section in Play Store listings, which is similar to the “App Privacy” labels in Apple’s App Store. The new Data Security section is easier to understand than Android’s General Permissions, but the information is provided by the app developer, instead of automatically generated from app code like the list permissions.

Google admits in its documentation that the company “cannot determine, on behalf of developers, how they handle user data.” It’s up to apps to make sure the “Data Security” section is accurate. It’s not a perfect system, but neither is the permissions information.

Even though the permissions data on the Play Store isn’t very useful anymore, it’s still worth keeping.

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