Tech News : New Privacy Features For Android 12

26th May 2021

Google has announced the release of the first beta of Android 12 which has a range of new features including some security measures which Google hopes can match those of Apple.

Design Change

Announced recently at a developer conference, and on Google’s blog, the addition of the new features to Android 12 mark the “biggest design change in Android’s history”.

In addition to being able to completely personalise their Android phone with a custom colour palette and redesigned widgets, Google says that users will also notice that the Android 12 OS is much faster, smoother, and more responsive to touch, with smooth motion and animations.

Security Features

Some of the features that have really caught the attention of tech commentators are those designed to give Android security features that are on a par with its competitor Apple.

These new features include:

– A new Privacy Dashboard.  This offers users the convenience and ease of having a single view into permissions and settings as well as showing what data is being accessed, how often and by which apps. The dashboard also makes it easy for users to revoke app permissions.

– A new indicator for the microphone and cameras. Similar to iOS indicators, the new Android 12 indicator (top right) lets now users know when their apps are accessing the microphone or camera, and two new toggles in Quick Settings allow users to remove app access to these sensors for the entire system.  These features enable users to guard against cyber criminals using (via apps) the camera or microphone to spy, eavesdrop, and steal personal data.

– Approximate location permissions.  This feature recognises the fact that apps don’t need to know a user’s exact location to function properly and, therefore, just giving an approximate location gives the user more control over how much information is shared with apps.

– Android Private Compute Core. This is a kind of sandbox, like the partitions used for passwords or biometric data, but can hold data for use in machine learning. The Android Private Compute Core enables features like Live Caption, Now Playing and Smart Reply and because all the audio and language processing happens on-device, isolated from the network, this preserves user privacy.

– Password Manager improvements.  Then new features being introduced to Google Chrome and Android’s Password Manager include making it easier for users to import passwords e.g., from NordPass, and an automatic password alert that tells users when Google detects that any saved passwords have been compromised in a security breach. Also, a new quick fix feature will enable the Google Assistant to navigate to the compromised accounts and change passwords within seconds, thereby trying to minimise the amount of time that users are exposed to risk.

Apple Update

It’s a fortnight since Apple (Google’s big competitor) released its critical iOS 14.5.1, macOS 11.3.1 security updates, so it’s not surprising that the new Android security features are being announced now.  Some tech commentators have noted, however, that the latest Android security and privacy updates don’t have an answer to Apple’s App-Tracking Transparency Feature, which requires apps to ask users for permission before tracking them across the web. It has been reported, however, that Google is still working on an alternative.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For Google, this update of Android is as much a competitive move as a simple update, designed to close the perceived (security) gap between its benefits and that of Apple’s iOS, and to challenge the idea in the marketplace that Apple products are always more secure. These extra security features will also be of benefit to business and domestic consumers alike but features such as the improved Password Manager may be bad news for companies like Nord (NordPass) and LogMeIn (the owners of LastPass) as it will be easier to transfer passwords across to Android. Google’s Android OS does still, however, have some catching up to do with Apple on features such as Tracking Transparency.