Android 10 coming soon, with important privacy upgrades

It’s official: 10, the next version of the operating system, ships 3 September 2019. Well, it’s semi-official, at least.

Mobile site PhoneArena reports that Google’s customer support staff let the date slip to a reader during a text conversation. Expect the operating system, also known as Android Q, to hit Google’s Pixel phones first before rolling out to other models. It will include a range of privacy and improvements that should keep Android a little safer.

Privacy features

Some of the most important privacy are those that stop applications and advertisers knowing more about your phone. Android 10 will now make transmit a randomised MAC address (this is a unique identifier for the network hardware in your phone) and also requires extra permissions to access the phone’s International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) and serial numbers, both of which uniquely identify the device.

Google has also taken steps to protect information about how you interact with your contacts. When you grant an access to your contacts, Android will no longer provide it with ‘affinity information’, which orders your contact according to who you interact with most. Mark that one in the “wait, what? It did that?” file.

One of the other significant privacy enhancements is control over how an app accesses a phone’s location. A new dialog will let users choose whether apps can access location at all times, or only when running in the foreground. Google is playing catch-up here, as iOS already does this.

What about those apps that snoop on location data using other means, such as looking at Wi-Fi access points or checking folders for location data that other apps have left? The new version of Android will require specific fine location permissions for apps accessing selected Wi-Fi, telephony, and Bluetooth functions. It also has a new feature called scoped storage, which restricts an app’s access to files on external storage, only giving it access to its specific directory and media types.

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Google has obviously been listening to researchers who discovered that a phone’s sensors could implicitly reveal details about its user. Android Q will introduce a new version of its ACTIVITY_RECOGNITON permission for apps that look at physical activity, like step count.

Other privacy enhancements include restrictions on when apps can start in the background, and the OS will also stop apps from silently accessing the device’s screen.

Biometric authentication

Google is also rolling out several security enhancements to complement the privacy features in Android 10. The new version of the OS will feature better support for biometric authentication. It will include two modes, explicit and implicit, which developers can use to remove friction from the authentication process.

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