Google has new ways to evade Apple’s iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS privacy labels/prompts and avoid revealing how much data it actually gathers

Google dodging Apple Privacy Labels and Prompts? Pic credit: Roman Boed/Creative Commons

Google has been attempting to dodge Apple’s new “Privacy Nutrition Labels” for iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS. Possibly to avoid revealing the quantum of user data from iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV users, Google has come up with a new technique.

Apple will soon mandate iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV app developers to seek permission from users to collect their random advertising identifier. Known as the “Identifier for Advertisers” or “IDFA”, it allows customizing advertisements. Google has stopped the practice for the “handful” of its iOS and tvOS apps that currently use it for advertising purposes.

Google won’t ask for IDFA access permission on Apple iOS and tvOS to dodge security prompts and scrutiny?

Starting with iOS 14, Apple is mandating app developers to inform users about and have them opt-in, to tracking. Essentially, app developers have to display a requisition prompt to collect users’ Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA).

Advertisers use the IDFA to deliver personalized ads and measure the effectiveness of their ad campaigns. As part of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (“ATT”) policy, users will be presented with a prompt to allow or deny tracking as necessary when opening apps on iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14.

Quite likely as a dodging mechanism, Google has announced that it will stop collecting IDFAs for the “handful” of its iOS apps that currently use it for advertising purposes. The changes will take place after Apple’s new policy goes into effect.

If Google stops the practice of asking for IDFA, its apps will not need to show Apple’s tracking permission prompt in its iOS and tvOS apps. As expected, Google is cautioning developers that their “Google ad revenue” on iOS and tvOS could be hit.

The search giant has a support document with more information on how developers can prepare. But, in the blog post, Google cautioned app developers. The company hinted that developers may see a “significant impact” to their Google ad revenue on iOS (and tvOS) after Apple’s new policy takes effect:

Apple’s ATT changes will reduce visibility into key metrics that show how ads drive conversions (like app installs and sales) and will affect how advertisers value and bid on ad impressions. As such, app publishers may see a significant impact on their Google ad revenue on iOS after Apple’s ATT policies take effect. To help improve iOS monetization rates, we encourage developers to upgrade to version 7.64 of the Google Mobile Ads SDK for new features like SKAdNetwork support.

Google is yet to update its popular iOS apps after Apple’s ‘Privacy Nutrition Labels’ requirement:

Besides the aforementioned technique to raise suspicion about the amount of data Google collects, the search giant is also deploying other techniques. The company has simply stopped sending out updates to a few of its popular apps for iOS.

Many of Google’s most prominent iOS apps have yet to display privacy information. These include the main Google app, YouTube, Gmail, Chrome, and others. The simple reason is these apps haven’t received any updates since December 14. Users interested in knowing the extent of data collection by Google are greeted with the message: “No Details Provided.”

Incidentally, Google has sent several updates to its apps on Android since December 7, 2020. In some cases, a few apps have received multiple updates. Hence, the delay appears intentional.

Some of Google’s apps that have received updates, and sport the new Apple Privacy Nutrition Labels, include:

  • Stadia
  • Google Translate
  • Onduo for Diabetes
  • Google Authenticator
  • Project Baseline
  • Google Play Movies and TV
  • Google Classroom
  • Motion Stills – GIF, Collage
  • Google Fiber
  • Google Fiber TV
  • Wear OS
  • Google Smart Lock

As evident from the list above, popular Google apps such as YouTube, Gmail, Chrome, etc. do not sport the Privacy Labels. It is not clear if Google is deliberately slowing updates to avoid revealing data collection practices.

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