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Google Play Store is failing to protect your data privacy, new study says

Minecraft, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok were rated among the worst offenders.

Published onFebruary 23, 2023

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  • A new study from Mozilla claims that Google Play Store’s Data Safety labels aren’t adequately protecting privacy.
  • Mozilla found that nearly 80% of the apps it reviewed had false or misleading Data Safety labels.
  • Twitter and TikTok were among the worst offenders of the bunch.

Google implemented Data Safety labels to help users protect their data while using the Play Store. But Google’s commitment to data privacy may be overstated, according to a new study.

Back in April 2022, Google introduced Data Safety labels to the Play Store. This new privacy-focused section requires the apps on its platform to report how they collect and manage data and user privacy. The point is to inform the user so they can make better decisions on what apps they want to download. Think of it like nutrition labels on food which tell you how healthy it is, but for your personal data.

While that may sound all well and good on the surface, it appears that Google may not be enforcing its policy as well as it should. A study — See No Evil: How Loopholes in the Google Play Store’s Data Safety Labels Leave Companies in the Clear and Consumers in the Dark from Mozilla has found that nearly 80% of the apps it tested had false or misleading labels.

According to the internet company, its researchers reviewed the top 20 paid and top 20 free apps on the Play Store. Each app was given a rating of poor, needs improvement, or OK. If an app received a poor rating, that means there are major discrepancies between its Data Safety labels and its actual privacy policies. An OK rating means the app’s policies align closely with its label. And those that earn a “needs improvement” score fell somewhere in-between.

Of the 40 apps Mozilla reviewed, 16 (40%) of them received a poor grade. This included software like Minecraft, Facebook, and more. However, Twitter and TikTok were among the worst offenders, according to the results.

There were 15 apps (37.5%) that earned a needs improvement rating. This group had a few of Google’s own apps in it, including YouTube, Google Maps, and Gmail. Those apps were also joined by Instagram and WhatsApp.

Only six of the apps managed to achieve an OK grade. Those apps were:

  • Candy Crush Saga
  • Google Play Games
  • Subway Surfers
  • Stickman Legends Offline Games
  • Power Amp Full Version Unlocker
  • League of Stickman: 2020 Ninja

As for the rest of the apps on the list, they didn’t receive a score. The reason why is that they didn’t even fill out the Data Safety form. Those apps are UC Browser – Safe, Fast, Private; League of Stickman Best acti; and Terraria.

This is a problem as these apps may share your data with advertisers, internet service providers, platforms, and numerous other types of companies.

The failure of these apps to accurately report their policies partly falls on Google and how it polices its policy. Google states the apps on its platform “are responsible for making complete and accurate declarations,” placing the responsibility on someone else.

“Consumers care about privacy and want to make smart decisions when downloading apps,”says Jen Caltrider, Mozilla Project Lead. “Google’s Data Safety labels are supposed to help them do that. Unfortunately, they don’t. Instead, I’m worried they do more harm than good. When I see Data Safety labels stating that apps like Twitter or TikTok don’t share data with third parties, it makes me angry because it is completely untrue. Of course, Twitter and TikTok share data with third parties. Consumers deserve better. Google must do better.”

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