After a few years of expanding privacy and security tools, the Android team is in refinement mode. Then again, when an operating system runs on more than 3 billion devices, little changes can have a big impact. And a slew of new features in Android 12 not only give you more insight into what your apps are up to, they also offer more granular options for how to limit what data those apps can access.
Android 12 is already available in beta and will formally launch in a few months. At Google’s IO developer conference today, though, the company is showcasing little tweaks and bigger features that help you understand what goes on behind the scenes—and provide more opportunities to catch unwanted behavior from apps. Some of these additions are similar to features already available in Apple’s iOS. But others move the privacy ball forward in new ways.
“With this release we want to keep narrowing down the scope of what data apps get,” says Android group product manager Charmaine D’Silva. “It’s taken some time to get it right, but the main focus of this release is giving a deeper level of transparency to users.”
Android 12 includes a “Privacy Dashboard” where you can see which apps used potentially sensitive permissions in the past 24 hours. The dashboard breaks down app activity by category— like “Location,” “Camera,” and “Microphone”—and then shows you which apps accessed those mechanisms. Google will also be asking developers to provide additional information on what they were using the access for at that particular moment. And you can adjust or revoke app permissions through the dashboard. It gives more insight than you might be used to into how apps work in the background, especially because it includes not only that an app accessed, say, location data or your microphone, but when and for how long.
“We give permissions to apps so they can do awesome things; it’s not at all unusual to see entries on the dashboard,” D’Silva says. “But is anything on the list surprising? Maybe you gave an app access awhile ago and don’t remember why exactly. We wanted to give users a complete picture.”
Android 12 also introduces a green indicator light in the top right corner of any screen that goes on if your smartphone’s microphone or camera are in use. Apple’s iOS 14 added a similar feature last year. In Android, though, you can pull down on the light to see more details about which app is using the mic or camera and why, and there’s easy access from there to revoke permission if you want to.