Google still has not updated most of its iOS apps since privacy labeling took effect

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In context: Companies have vocally opposed Apple’s recent App Store policy change requiring them to reveal how their apps collect data and with whom they share it. While users applaud the transparency, advertisers are afraid it will kill their revenue, especially once iOS 14 begins requiring apps to ask permission to collect data.

Apple began requiring its privacy “nutrition labels” in the App Store back on December 8. The rollout was (and still is) under soft enforcement. That is to say, developers are not required to update their apps with the labels immediately but are required to include them in their next patch.

Back in January, we noticed Google had not updated any of its iOS apps. Most of them had not seen a patch since December 7, the day before the privacy labeling deadline. We speculated that Google might have been taking advantage of soft enforcement to delay revealing its data collection policies to users for as long as possible. However, Google never responded to requests for comment.

Now we are a good two months into Apple’s transparency policy, and Google still has not released updates to most of its apps. Ars Technica points out that YouTube is the only Google-owned app that has the privacy labels. It is also worth mentioning that YouTube is still operated independently from Google, headed up by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, which could explain why it is the only one.

So much time has elapsed since the other apps have seen an update that Google’s servers started flagging users, warning them that their apps were out-of-date. Presumably, the search giant had set an automatic warning to go out after users had not updated them for about two months. In this case, it was Google not giving users anything to download that set off the messages.

Admins have since reset the warning messages, but apps, including Gmail, Google Maps, Search, Chrome, Drive, Photos, Keep, and Duo, have yet to receive updates. The only thing we have heard on the issue from Google was in a blog post on privacy from January 12, stating that the labels were coming in future updates.

“As Google’s iOS apps are updated with new features or to fix bugs, you’ll see updates to our app page listings that include the new App Privacy Details,” said Vice President of Product, Privacy Rahul Roy-Chowdhury. “These labels represent the maximum categories of data that could be collected—meaning if you use every available feature and service in the app.”

Nowhere else in the post does he mention when these “new features and bug fixes” will be coming. So we ask again: “How long can Google go without updating its iPhone apps?” My guess would be until there comes a severe security flaw, it cannot ignore, but I’m a pessimist.

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