Here’s How Google’s Gmail iOS App Change Affects Apple Users’ Privacy

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) recently implemented a change in its Gmail iOS app that affects the privacy of Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone users, reports Quartz. Google announced the change via its official Gmail blog last month. The blog post noted that “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.”

Although this change ostensibly improves the way that the Gmail app functions in iOS, it also has implications for users’ privacy, since it alters the way that Google’s other iOS apps operate. As noted in Google’s blog post, “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. You may need to re-login after you update the app, but then you’ll be all set.”

As noted by Quartz, this effectively removes iOS users’ ability to remain anonymous on other Google apps, such as Google Maps and YouTube. With this change, Google has vastly increased the amount of user data that it is able to collect from iPhone users. This financially benefits Google, since it is able to use the information about the browsing habits of iOS users to sell more valuable targeted advertising.

As stated by Google, “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.” According to the latest data from mobile analytics platform Mixpanel, over 88 percent of activated Apple mobile devices are running iOS 7. This means that Google’s Gmail iOS app change affects the majority of Apple’s iOS device users.

As noted by Quartz, this unified approach to user data collection has long been a feature for users of Android and users of Google’s Web-based services. Google first announced that it was unifying its privacy policies across its services in 2012. “Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience,” stated Google in a blog post explaining the policy change.

The financial benefit that Google gained from its move to a consolidated data collection method can be seen in the company’s annual earnings reports. According to Google, advertising revenues have grown from $36.5 billion in 2011 to nearly $50.6 billion last year. However, it remains to be seen if the most recent change will drive more Apple users away from Google’s services.

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