Tech

Android 12 may introduce camera, microphone kill switch

Apps would also be required to indicate when they have access to sensors.

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Google is expected to unveil Android 12 later this year, and the website XDA Developers says it got ahold of early preview images of the new operating system version. Of particular note, it looks like Google will follow in Apple's footsteps with new privacy measures regarding access to sensors like the camera and microphones.

The OS has also been redesigned with custom themes and new widgets that look reminiscent of those found in iOS 14.

Privacy friendly — In an image of the Privacy section, new toggles can be seen that present options to disable access to the camera, microphone, and any location data generated from the phone. Presumably this is a system-wide control, meaning no app would be able to quietly access the microphone with these settings toggled off.

It's hard to confirm the authenticity of the images, but details in both line up with how legitimate leaks have appeared in the past.

According to XDA, previews of new Android versions are delivered to partners early, like smartphone manufacturers, so they can prepare to update their devices with the new software.

Another picture provided in the report shows that Android 12 might introduce sensor indicators in the status bar that alert a user when an app is actively accessing the phone's camera or microphone. Apple introduced these in iOS 14, released last year. XDA explains how it would work in Android 12:

These indicators must be shown prominently at the top of the screen, always be visible whenever the camera or microphone is being accessed, and must have the same color across the ecosystem.

Some people likely won't be assured with anything less than a hardware cover. Software is not exactly impervious to hacking, after all. Such a feature could still be useful in secure environments, like workplaces, where an employer might disable cameras on corporate devices in order to protect confidential information from being stolen.

It was reported last week that Google might similarly copy Apple by introducing the option for Android users to block apps from tracking them across other apps and websites. Apple has come under fire from Facebook over the new feature in iOS 14, yet to be implemented, which it says will hurt developers' ability to make money through targeted advertisements.

It's unlikely that Google's version would be as restrictive because the company's primary business is in advertising, but users would at least gain the ability to opt-out of some tracking.

Preventing the worst — Technology giants are under increasing pressure to shore up privacy protections for users who are distrustful of the companies over their opaque collection and use of personal data. The public may be willing to provide certain data in exchange for access to free services, but it's hard for many everyday people to understand what's being collected on them and how to control it.

Google and others don't have a lot of incentive to alleviate that confusion, but they may be starting to accept that they will have to take proactive measures to behave like better corporate citizens before less tech-savvy legislators make choices they won't like. Giving users easy to use privacy controls is no longer a choice.