Google recently launched the new Data Safety section on the Play Store. In it, app developers are required to explain what personal data and which permissions they use in order to provide their services. It looks like the company deems the Data Safety section a suitable replacement for the permission list of old. Play Store listings now show a shortcut to an app’s Data Safety section rather than the plain list of all permissions it can ask to get access to.

In screenshots shared by Esper.io’s Mishaal Rahman, we can see a before and after comparison of the Facebook app listing. While Google changed the layout of the additional information section significantly, moving from three columns to two in its latest redesign, it becomes clear after a moment that the permissions section has been replaced with the Data Safety information.

Old vs. new

Much like a privacy policy, the Data Safety section is supposed to include all the ways an app could extract personal data from you, all while listing for which purposes this data is necessary. This also includes permissions, so replacing the permissions list with the Data Safety section isn’t necessarily a bad idea. In fact, it could make things easier to understand for many people, as the listed permissions often don’t have the most intuitive names, which could make you believe that you could actually give out more personal data than you really do.

In theory, the new Data Safety section gives you a much better idea of which data and which permissions an app uses. However, many big developers still haven’t updated their listings to provide these details. Facebook apps, Amazon apps, Twitter, Disney+, Discord, and ironically even the DuckDuckGo Browser haven’t populated their Data Safety sections yet, leaving you with no pre-emptive details about the permissions they require.

Some apps also don’t really provide any valuable information at all beyond listing needed permissions. Rahman calls out Telegram, which has just noted that it needs access to location, personal infos, messages, photos and videos, and more to provide “app functionality.”

Even apps that do it the right way may just end up overwhelming you with information. For example, the Google Go app lists so many reasons for why it needs personal data without really explaining any of the broad terms used — just look at the screenshot below.

Parts of the Google Go Data Safety information

Developers only have until July 20, 2022, to provide this information, so the first problem with apps that don't provide details at all might not be an issue for much longer. It’s still weird that Google would push the button and switch things over to the Datas Safety section before this deadline. At this point, the company could have waited a week longer until at least all the big developers were in line with the requirement. Google should have also made sure that the listed details are helpful and not just blanket statements.

If you really want to see the full list of permissions before you install an app, there are still options for you. Mishaal Rahman notes that you can head to the Aurora Store, an open-source Play Store client. In it, the detailed list of permissions an app is asking for is still visible. While Google has stopped publicly showing this data in the Play Store, it looks like it’s still stored in the backend.