December 10, 2018

Google accounts will soon have more granular control over third-party app permissions


It’s the day before Google’s big annual hardware event, and the company is busy weathering some major bad press. Google+ for consumers is shutting down, and far from being a graceful death, its demise is pinned on a March 2018 bug that was not disclosed until today. The company says this is because it simply didn’t meet the necessary thresholds for reporting, but the Wall Street Journal reports it was because the company feared regulation. Either way, the news casts a shadow over the Pixel event, and completely distracts from the other small but useful tweaks the company released today regarding privacy, in particular the fact that it is now rolling out more granular Google account permissions.

Over the next few months, Google will begin providing more fine-grained control over what account data Google users can choose to share with third-party apps. The change makes it so users must individually grant or deny each permission to access data in their consumer Google account, rather than accept or deny permissions all at the same time. In other words, when an app requests access to Google account data, multiple dialog boxes pop up, each with a request for a particular permission, rather than one large dialog box with all the requested permissions (i.e. location, contacts, calendars) lumped together.

How the Google Account permissions dialog box looks now, as opposed to the new version in header.

As I noted above, this change isn’t major, but it is a step in the right direction. When the permissions show up all in one dialog box, it feels daunting — like an all-or-nothing decision. Soon, there will be more nuance.

In addition, Google is now limiting use cases for accessing Gmail permissions, and limiting the ability of third-party apps to receive call log and SMS permissions on Android devices, as well as nixing contact interaction data from the Android Contacts API. Whether all this is enough to convince regulators and the public that Google can self-regulate is another story entirely, but from the media response we’ve seen today, it likely won’t be this easy.


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