Android 12 Could Prevent Apps From Spying on You, Experts Say


Android 12’s new privacy indicators will help you see when apps are listening or watching you, something experts say could change how we use our smart devices. Android 12’s full release isn’t expected to arrive until sometime later this year. A recent look at the second developer preview revealed new privacy indicators that will let you see if an app is accessing your camera, microphone, or location. Apple recently released a similar feature with iOS 14, though it looks like Google’s will offer more in-depth information, as well as showcase full context about all the system features currently being used. Experts say this is just another step in users taking back control of how their data is shared.

Key Takeaways

–> Google will include new privacy indicators in Android 12.

–> The new privacy notifications will alert users when their microphone, camera, or location are being used by an app.

–> Users can utilize these features to track which apps are using their device’s features, granting better control who can access those systems.

“This is going to fundamentally change how users think about their apps and devices,” Nick Potvin, CEO and founder of Marketing Privacy, told Techlivenews via email. “Before, data collection and privacy were not very well known. Now, the data collection and tracking practices will be front and center, giving users a moment to have the opportunity to opt-out.”

Staying in the Loop

Privacy notifications are something Google has been working on for a while, though this is the first time we’ve seen how the company is approaching them. Much like iOS 14, the indicators will appear along the notification bar at the top of your Android phone’s screen. Unlike iOS, though, Android’s appear to include the icon of the particular feature being used at the time.

This should make it easier for users to see exactly what is being accessed without having to memorize what the different colors mean—iOS uses an orange dot for audio and a green dot to signify that an app is accessing your camera. Based on images shared by developer @kdrag0n on Twitter, it also looks like Google further breaks down which apps are accessing your camera or microphone.

According to Potvin, one of the biggest issues with user privacy right now is many people don’t understand how their data is captured and shared. These new indicators will at least help users understand when their data is being captured.

“Data practices have been covert and not easily understood,” Potvin explained. “I believe many users are starting to realize that privacy isn’t simply about ‘having nothing to hide.’ There are legitimate security and mental health risks associated with these data practices.”

The Final Say

While Google and Apple’s new privacy indicators won’t stop applications from capturing audio or video using your smartphone’s built-in systems, they do alert you to when it’s happening.

Potvin says this is important because it puts control of your data back in your hands. If you see an app accessing your microphone when it doesn’t need to, you can remove the app from your phone to prevent further issues. The best way users can protect themselves is by being aware and these notifications will make that easier.

“I believe many users are starting to realize that privacy isn’t simply about ‘having nothing to hide.’”

Many apps require you to give them permission to use different features of your phone when you first install them. Much like the terms of agreement that many people simply scroll through and agree to, just blindly accepting that an app needs access to your phone’s systems can leave you at risk.

“Some users might grant apps permission to use the camera and microphone without realizing how and when the app will utilize those permissions,” Paul Bischoff, a consumer privacy expert at Comparitech, told us.

Bischoff also said it’s good to be aware of when apps are accessing your microphone or even recording video, because it can tip you off to malicious behavior. He also says Android’s indicators probably won’t change many people’s behavior when it comes to using standard apps like a voice recorder or the camera app. However, it at least will let them know when apps are trying to access those systems.

“Without this feature, those permissions are more easily abused. They could be used to spy on users when they don’t expect it, for example.” Bischoff said.

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