A (somewhat humorous) report began circulating yesterday that suggests Google purposefully stopped updating its apps on iOS to avoid placing Apple’s new mandatory App Store Privacy Labels on its apps. The company has since confirmed plans to add these labels.
For those unfamiliar with Apple’s privacy labels, the company rolled them out in mid-December alongside the release of iOS 14.3. The labels appear on applications available through Apple’s App Store and detail what data an app can access. That can include data “linked to you,” such as financial info or identifiers, data that isn’t linked to you, like location or search history, and more.
Along with the new App Store Privacy Labels, the Cupertino, California-based company said that developers would need to report the data collection information needed to add these labels starting December 8th. Apple said it would block developers from updating their apps if they didn’t provide the information.
Several companies have yet to add privacy labels to their apps
That promise formed the crux of Fast Company‘s report about Google — the publication noted that Google hadn’t updated any of its iOS apps for a while, with several receiving updates on December 7th, the day before Apple’s deadline. Fast Company suggests Google was avoiding updates so it wouldn’t have to share information about the data its apps collected and pointed out that Google updated several of the Android versions of its apps.
Considering that some companies have received a lot of flak for these privacy labels, it’s easy to see why Google may want to avoid privacy labels on its apps. The Facebook app, for example, has a comically long list of data it collects, while Facebook’s Messenger app had its list compared to other messaging platforms, which feature significantly fewer labels.
However, a Google spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the company plans to add privacy labels across its app catalogue, with the first expected to roll out later this week or sometime next week. While that statement alone debunks Fast Company‘s theory, TechCrunch goes on to note that two of Google’s apps received updates after the December 8th deadline: one on the 14th and the other on the 15th. Neither app had privacy labels, though.
Further, TechCrunch points out that a slowdown in app updates in December is normal for several reasons. For one, Apple shuts down the App Store during the holidays (from December 23rd to December 27th in 2020). Further, Google goes on a ‘code freeze’ over the holidays to prevent a product or service from breaking while staff is away.
Finally, Google isn’t the only company that hasn’t added privacy labels. TechCrunch notes that neither Amazon nor Pinterest have updated their apps with the labels.
Google isn’t withholding updates to avoid Apple’s new privacy labels. That’s not to say the new privacy labels aren’t a concern for Google — and other companies — that primarily make money from collecting user data for advertising purposes. But those concerns likely aren’t stopping any app updates.