Contrary to reports, Google is not delaying updates to its iOS apps because it doesn’t aim to comply with Apple’s recently announced App Store Privacy Labels policy. The new policy, a part of the company’s larger privacy push, requires developers to disclose how data is collected from App Store users and used to track them. TechCrunch confirmed Google is not taking a stand against the labels. It is, in fact, preparing to roll out privacy labels across its sizable iOS app catalog as soon as this week or the next. [Update, 1/12/21: The labels are now rolling out. See below.]
TechCrunch looked into the situation with Google’s apps following a story by Fast Company today that speculated that Google’s slowdown on releasing iOS app updates could be because it was perhaps not ready to be transparent about the data it collects from its users. The report stated that “not a single one” of Google’s apps had been updated since December 7, 2020 — coincidentally, just one day before Apple’s new privacy label requirements went into effect on the App Store.
It went on to suggest the late November to early December time frame when many of Google’s iOS apps were updated was another indication that Google was trying to squeeze in a few last updates before the app privacy label deadline.
There are a few problems with speculation, however.
For starters, we should clarify that Google actually did roll out updates to two of its apps after the deadline — but those updates didn’t include privacy labels. (That indicates the updates were pre-approved before the deadline but held.)
Google Slides, the slideshow presentation app and one of Google’s more significant apps in the productivity space, was updated on December 14, 2020. And Socratic by Google, a homework helper and the No. 7 free app in the Education category, was updated on December 15. (We fact-checked this data with Sensor Tower’s assistance, as Google’s iOS catalog is nearing 100 iPhone apps!)
While it may seem Google is skirting Apple’s new rules, we must also be careful about reading too much into the update timing. A slowdown in December app updates isn’t unusual by any stretch, even apps are typically updated on a quicker basis. Nor is it suspicious to see app changes pushed out to the public in the weeks before Christmas and New Year’s because the Apple’s App Store itself shuts down over the holidays. This year, The App Store closed from December 23 through December 27, 2020 for its annual break.
And like other large companies, Google goes on a code freeze in late December through early January, so as not to cause major issues with its products and services over the holidays when staff is out.
Of course, none of this is to say that app privacy labels aren’t a concern for Google, given its primary business is advertising. In fact, they’re being taken quite seriously — with execs attending meetings to discuss that sort of thing right now.
But Google, we should point out, isn’t the only major app publisher that delayed an immediate embrace of app privacy labels. Amazon and Pinterest haven’t yet updated with privacy labels as of the time of writing, for example.
These delays don’t necessarily indicate the companies are fighting the new label requirements, only that they’re considering them carefully — perhaps, more so than others who don’t have as much to disclose. (And these are businesses where data collection and advertising are key factors in revenue generation, we should note.)
Reached for comment, a Google spokesperson confirmed the company has a plan to add privacy labels across its app catalog. They also confirmed the labels are expected to begin rolling out as soon as this week or next week, though an exact date is not yet available.
Google announced today the labels are rolling out, noting that:
“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. These labels represent the maximum categories of data that could be collected—meaning if you use every available feature and service in the app. The data you provide to Google products delivers helpful services to you, and you can always control your privacy settings by visiting your Google Account or going directly to the Google products you use on iOS.”