Privacy-Focused Android Q Still Lets Advertisers Track You

“The upcoming version of the Android operating system is taking a strong focus on privacy,” reports SD Times, “but the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) believes it could still do better.”

Android Q’s new privacy features include: user control over app access to device location, new limits on access to files in shared external storage, restrictions on launching activities, and restrictions on access to the device’s hardware and sensors… “However, in at least one area, Q’s improvements are undermined by Android’s continued support of a feature that allows third-party advertisers, including Google itself, to track users across apps,” Bennett Cyphers, engineer for the EFF, wrote in a post. “Furthermore, Android still doesn’t let users control their apps’ access to the Internet, a basic permission that would address a wide range of privacy concerns.”

According to Cyphers, while Android Q has new restrictions on non-resettable device identifies, it will allow unrestricted access for its own tracking identifier [called “advertising ID”]… “Facebook and other targeting companies allow businesses to upload lists of ad IDs that they have collected in order to target those users on other platforms,” he wrote… “On Android, there is no way for the user to control which apps can access the ID, and no way to turn it off. While we support Google taking steps to protect other hardware identifiers from unnecessary access, its continued support of the advertising ID — a “feature” designed solely to support tracking — undercuts the company’s public commitment to privacy,” he wrote…

Cypher also noted that while Apple’s iOS has similar identifiers for advertisers that contradict with its privacy campaign, it does enable users to turn off the tracking.

In fact, Android Q also ships with an “opt out of ad personalization” checkbox where users can indicate that they don’t want Google’s identifier to track them, Cyphers reports — but “the checkbox doesn’t affect the ad ID in any way.

“It only encodes the user’s ‘preference’, so that when an app asks Android whether a user wants to be tracked, the operating system can reply ‘no, actually they don’t.’ Google’s terms tell developers to respect this setting, but Android provides no technical safeguards to enforce this policy.”

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