Android 12 is bringing more transparent privacy controls

Android 12 helps you know exactly what apps are tracking your location, using the camera, and using the microphone when it’s happening.

In Android 11, we saw the debut of a popular privacy feature: a one-time permission setting for getting your location in the background, using your microphone, or using the camera. That’s a great thing — we spent the money on the best Android phone, so we should be told whenever an app could „spy“ on us and restrict it from getting access to sensitive data when we’re not actively using it.

Along with these finer privacy controls, Android 12 has also included a way to know when location services, the camera, or the microphone is in use even though you might have allowed it to happen. Two ways, actually.

Much like we first saw in leaked renders of Android 12’s user interface, Android 12 Developer Preview #2 brings a notification to let you know when these sensitive permissions are in use, no matter which app might be using them. This is a handy reminder that even though you don’t remember allowing it, an app is tracking your location, for example. The same goes for the camera and the microphone.

A tap on the notification pops open a small window with details about which app is using which permission, and if you don’t have an app that’s using a permission, you won’t see the indicator inside the green pillbox.

The alert is also visible without opening the notification shade, albeit in a less disruptive way. In your status bar near the battery and signal indicators, the trio of sensitive permissions each has an icon to be displayed when they are in use. Here’s an example showing all three in action. This is largely unchanged from the way Android 11 handles these permissions.

The reasoning behind these changes is all about user privacy. There are plenty of permissions an Android app can ask for, but three, in particular, are real-time privacy concerns that we need to understand are in use at a particular moment. Those three are, of course, location, camera, and microphone. The use of these permissions allows an app to know where you are and what you’re doing while you’re there and doing it. Nobody wants that.

All app permissions are important, but a few can be exploited in real-time, so we need to know what’s going on.

It is important to remember that we’re still seeing the non-public portion of Android 12 here. These functions are there and work exactly as expected but aren’t „activated“ in the Android 12 Developer Preview #2 just yet. It takes some fiddling with the system to enable them, so there is a real possibility that we won’t actually see this behavior once Android 12 goes „gold.“

I’m confident that this is a feature that’s sticking around, though, because it’s functionally complete (including the user interface), and I learned that Google really wants these features as part of Android during a privacy-focused interview with Google Product Manager and privacy specialist, Charmaine D’Silva.

Google, along with phone manufacturers, has been under closer scrutiny over user privacy, and knowing that better tools like this are in the works is great news.


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