“There are two main problems here,” Mozilla’s Caltrider said. “The first problem is Google only requires the information in labels to be self-reported. So, fingers crossed, because it’s the honor system, and it turns out that most labels seem to be misleading.”
Google promises to make apps fix problems it finds in the labels, and threatens to ban apps that don’t get in compliance. But the company has never provided any details about how it polices apps. Google said it’s vigilant about enforcement but didn’t give any details about its enforcement process, and didn’t respond to a question about any enforcement actions it’s taken in the past.
Of course, Google could just read the privacy policies where apps spell out these practices, like Mozilla did, but there’s a bigger issue at play. These apps may not even be breaking Google’s privacy label rules, because those rules are so relaxed that “they let companies lie,” Caltrider said.
“That’s the second problem. Google’s own rules for what data practices you have to disclose are a joke,” Caltrider said. “The guidelines for the labels make them useless.”
If you go looking at Google’s rules for the data safety labels, which are buried deep in a cascading series of help menus, you’ll learn that there is a long list of things that you don’t have to tell your users about. In other words, you can say you don’t collect data or share it with third parties, while you do in fact collect data and share it with third parties.
For example, apps don’t have to disclose data sharing it if they have “consent” to share the data from users, or if they’re sharing the data with “service providers,” or if the data is “anonymized” (which is nonsense), or if the data is being shared for “specific legal purposes.” There are similar exceptions for what counts as data collection. Those loopholes are so big you could fill up a truck with data and drive it right on through.
Which goes to show again, walled garden app stores really are no better than just downloading stuff from the internet, unless you’re the owner of the walled garden and collect 30% revenue for doing basically not much.
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