Google Play’s upcoming safety section will help users make more informed decisions about the apps they download and install on their mobile devices. To accommodate these new requirements, every app published on the Google Play Store will need to declare how it collects, protects, and handles private user data.
By April 2022, the new safety section in Google Play will inform users and help them understand:
- What type of data does an app collect
- Why the app collects that data
- Which data is shared with third-party providers
- Whether users have control over their data
- If the information is optional or needed for app functionality
- How the app protects data through security practices like encryption
Compliance With Worldwide Privacy Rules
Google’s developer “agreements” have been imposed on them by new worldwide privacy safety rules and regulations that protect the consumer.
To comply with these new privacy laws around the world, including the EU’s GDPR and California’s COPPA laws, developers now must offer more transparency to the users. As a developer, you will have to clearly and explicitly detail which and what type of data is collected, why you’re collecting it, with whom you may share it, and how users can control their data.
It’s not enough to just link your privacy policies in a complicated 10-page document. You have to communicate all privacy laws and regulations in a language that is simple to understand. It must be easy to find and should help users make informed choices about handling their private data. This notion has led to the creation of a new safety section for Google Play apps.
Designed to Reassure Users
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center,
54% of mobile app users won’t install a mobile app if they have concerns over the amount of personal information that the app requests.
Even more concerning for developers, 30% of mobile app users uninstalled an app they’d previously downloaded once they learned the app collected data they didn’t want to share.
This new Google Play Store update aims to garner trust from these users, who are continuously becoming more aware that their data may get illegally collected, shared, and used for profit. As a result, you can use the safety section to reassure your users by highlighting any essential security and privacy features that your app may have.
Responsibility for Accuracy
Part of Google Play’s new section requires all developers to provide accurate disclosure information, both for their apps and any third-party libraries, sponsored ads, software development kits (SDK), and Application Programming Interfaces (API) that the apps might use.
If you’re a developer, this does pose a challenge. You will be solely liable for any misinformation users may receive about your outside providers. Under these new safety rules, you’re responsible for finding out the data-collection practices of any third-party providers. You will be subject to a penalty if you don’t declare their methods along with your own.
Consistent and Uniform Presentation
The beauty of the Google Play approach is that adding consistency and clarity of purpose will allow users to expect privacy information in the same places. Users can read through these disclosures on every app on the Google Play Store to find where they need to look for more detailed information.
Timeline for New Safety Section
The Android Developers Blog shows the following timeline:
Implementing a Buffer
Google will eventually require all apps on Google Play Store to comply with the new safety section. This timeline gives you a buffer to make any necessary updates if you have an app on Google Play already.
Until the section is fully set up during this buffer period, developers can temporarily continue publishing app updates by reverting their “App privacy & security” to draft mode. Developers can also use the Play Console help for explicit guidelines on what they need to include in their safety section.
October 2021: Begin Declaring
As of October, developers can complete and submit the questionnaire in the “App privacy & security” section on the App content page in the Google Play Console. All the answers you provide will appear in the new safety section.
At this stage:
- Feedback and guidance will be available
- App submissions will continue and will not be rejected
Early 2022: Section Becomes Visible
In the beginning of 2022, all users can view the new safety section on Google Play Store.
At this stage:
- New app submissions and updates will be rejected if you haven’t adequately met the safety policy
- Your content won’t be displayed to users if there are inconsistencies in any information
April 2022: Deadline for All New and Existing Apps
By April, the new safety section will require all Play Console apps to be consistent and compliant. This is your deadline, and you may face penalties if you still haven’t complied with the requirements.
By this point:
- New apps and updates will keep being rejected if there are discrepancies in the information provided or unresolved issues within the questionnaire
- Completing the “App privacy & security” section will be mandatory
- All third-party providers must be disclosed
- Developers’ existing apps on Google Play could be removed as a penalty for continued non-compliance
New Section Requirements
The new Google Play services update requires all apps to disclose the type of data they collect, store, and share, regardless of the target audience. Essentially, this covers all personal and sensitive user data that your app collects from a user’s device.
Collection of Data Declared
Types of collected data that must be reported include:
- Personally identifiable information (PII), including name, number, email address, etc.
- Photos and videos
- Saved audio files
- Collected data shared with third parties
- Data pinpointing a user’s approximate or precise location
Consideration of New Elements
Before installing an app, a user will now be able to consider new elements. For example, whether the app uses security practices like data encryption to protect data and meets the Google Play Families policy.
In addition, an app must report on whether:
- It needs the collected data to function
- Users have any choice in sharing the data
- Data collection is optional or required to use the app
And an app can report on whether:
- It’s verified by an external security review based on a global security standard
- It empowers users to request data deletion
Explanation of How Data Will Be Used
The Play Store update requires developers to disclose why the collected data is necessary. Some reasons could include:
- App functionality
- Personalization of content and recommendations
- Analytics about how users use the app
- Fraud prevention and security
- Communications from developers
Even if your target audience does not include children, make sure your marketing doesn’t unintentionally attract them.
If your target audience does include children, the safety section requires developers to meet the strictest privacy rules under Google Play’s “Designed For Families” program.
However, a recent study by the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, CA, found that over half of the 5,855 free Android apps in the “Designed For Families” section of Google Play showed signs of violating child privacy rules.
The new safety and privacy measures as part of the Google Play Store update aim to reduce that number in the future.
If Google finds that a developer has misrepresented their collected data, the developer has to fix it immediately. Apps that fail to comply will be subject to policy enforcement.
There are no details yet on whether that will be a suspension of the app’s availability, a fine, rejection of any new apps and updates, or the eventual removal of the app.
Next year, Google Play’s app listings will have to meet much stricter privacy policies on the use of data, similar to the recent addition of “nutrition labels” in Apple’s App Store.
Each developer will declare how their app handles its data by filling out a questionnaire in the new “App privacy & security” section in the Play Console. A user can see this information in the latest safety section on your app’s store listing.