Bloomberg Reports That Google Is Exploring Fig-Leaf Privacy Controls for Android

Mark Gurman and Nico Grant, reporting for Bloomberg*:

Google is exploring an alternative to Apple Inc.’s new anti-tracking feature, the latest sign that the internet industry is slowly embracing user privacy, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Internally, the search giant is discussing how it can limit data collection and cross-app tracking on the Android operating system in a way that is less stringent than Apple’s solution, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private plans.

“Alternative” is the wrong word. It’s not like you can choose between Apple’s system and Google’s. Apple’s system only exists on iOS, and Google’s would only exist on Android.

And Apple’s new tracking-related features are not “anti-tracking”. They’re simply about raising user awareness of tracking and giving users control over it. I’m not being facetious here. Nothing Apple is doing is “anti-tracking”. It’s only “anti-surreptitious-tracking”, and that’s a huge difference. It’s very easy and clear how to opt in to being tracked.

Let’s say a cottage industry arose where commercial companies were, unbeknownst to most people, plugging their fleets of electric vehicles into the outdoor power outlets on people’s homes overnight. “No one told us not to plug our electric delivery vans into these homes’ freely available power outlets.” And then, after this practice comes to light, the electric company adds a feature where every time a new vehicle is plugged into your outdoor power outlet, you, the homeowner, need to authorize that vehicle as being allowed to charge using the electricity you pay for. If you don’t authorize it, they don’t get the juice.

By Gurman and Grant’s logic, Bloomberg would describe this as an “anti-electric-vehicle” feature. That’s nonsense. It’s just putting the owner in charge of access to a resource that, heretofore, they didn’t realize companies were taking from them without asking.

A Google solution is likely to be less strict and won’t require a prompt to opt in to data tracking like Apple’s, the people said. The exploration into an Android alternative to Apple’s feature is still in the early stages, and Google hasn’t decided when, or if, it will go ahead with the changes.

If it doesn’t require opting in, it might as well not exist.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018 — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

Friday, 5 February 2021