Google changes iOS 7 privacy settings on the quiet

By John Leonard
04 Apr 2014 View Comments
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Users of Gmail on iOS 7 will now be automatically logged in to all of Google's other online services such as YouTube, Google+ and Hangouts by default.

Previously, the various iOS apps by Google all had separate logins and privacy policies but, as noted by online journal Quartz, in March these were consolidated into a single policy across 60-plus iOS 7 apps including Picasa, Google Docs and Drive. iOS 7 accounts for around 85 per cent of the Apple device market.

Further reading

"What Google really wants is for everybody to be signed in to their Google accounts all the time," a Google source told Quartz.

Significantly, rather than announcing the change publicly, Google couched the privacy rules revamp in terms of a customer service upgrade, hidden away on their Gmail blog.

"Whether you're checking your email first thing in the morning or as you're waiting in line at the grocery store, you want to get your messages as quickly as possible. With today's update to the Gmail iOS App, it's easier to do just that," reads the blog.

"The app now fully supports background app refresh, which means your Gmail messages will be pre-fetched and synced so they're right there when you open the app-no more annoying pauses while you wait for your inbox to refresh. This feature requires iOS 7, and you'll also need to turn on background app refresh and notifications (badge or any other type) for the Gmail app.

"The Gmail app also now supports sign-in across Google iOS apps, including Maps, Drive, YouTube and Chrome. Sign in to one, and you'll be signed in to all (this also works for signing out). So you won't have to type in that 27-character password or retrieve your 2-step verification code every time you navigate to another Google app," the blog concludes.

These changes mirror those that Google made to its apps on its Android mobile platform and on the web in March 2012, effectively forcing users to sign up for all of its services at once. But those changes were announced with a publicity campaign, whereas the iOS ones have been introduced by the back door.

The reason, undoubtedly, is that the original changes attracted fines adding up to millions of euros from EU member states, which have accuse Google of breaching EU laws and ordered it to change. Google ignored the ruling, but will not have welcomed the bad publicity.

Consolidated logins allows Google to track iOS 7 users' activity across its various apps, as it does with web and Android users, and also across devices and operating systems. Rather than relying on cookies to identify users they are now tracked by their use of Google services, meaning that Google can identify much more accurately the behaviour that led to a sale or click on one of its advertising clients' links, and charge them accordingly.

Google's underhand approach to privacy issues was also in the news yesterday when the company finally settled a €1m fine imposed by the Italian privacy watchdog over complaints that its Street View cars were not clearly recognisable, in a case dating back to 2010.

"Cars belonging to the giant of Mountain View [Google's HQ] roamed Italy's streets without being entirely recognisable as such, therefore not allowing the people present in those places to decide whether to be photographed or not," the Italian regulator said in a statement.

With Google's consolidated annual revenues running at around $50bn, it can afford to brush off such paltry fines. The damage to its reputation from consistently ignoring or evading privacy rulings may be more damaging in the long term, however.

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