Google Removes Apps Harvesting User Data; Big Tech to Lose Billions due to Apple's Privacy Changes

In this weekly segment, ExchangeWire sums up key industry updates in media, marketing, and commerce from around the globe. In this edition: Google removes apps harvesting user data from its Play Store; Apple's privacy changes to cost Big Tech billions; Time Out Group axes its London print magazine; and Google suspends ads on content about the war in Ukriane.


Google removes apps secretly collecting user data

Google has withdrawn over a dozen apps from its Play Store following the discovery that they contain code that has secretly harvested information from users.

The affected apps, which include Muslim prayer apps, a weather app, and a QR code scanner, contained a software development kit (SDK) which sent sensitive information to a third party. Data, including people’s locations, email addresses, phone numbers, and their phone’s unique IMEI identification number, was sent to Measurement Systems, without the consent of the apps’ users. Although based in Panama, Measurement Systems has been traced back to a Virginia-based firm, Vostrom Holdings.

Some of the affected apps had been downloaded over 10 million times.

Speaking to the BBC, a Google spokesperson commented, "All apps on Google Play must comply with our policies, regardless of developer,” adding, “When we determine an app violates these policies, we take appropriate action.”

The tech giant had previously warned developers of the need to ensure users are clear about the information they share with apps. In December of last year, Google stated that apps who fail to adhere to its data policy could be banned from the Play Store. The statement followed the revelation that at least two app partners of the British firm Huq, which collects location data, had failed to seek the correct user permissions.

Apps banned from Google’s Play Store for the prohibited harvesting of user data are eligible to apply for reinstatement if the offending code is removed, reports the BBC.


Apple’s privacy changes predicted to wipe USD$16bn from Big Tech firms

A new analysis of Apple’s major privacy update indicates that the changes could wipe USD$16bn (£12.2bn) from Big Tech companies Meta, YouTube, Twitter, and Snap in 2022 alone.

The App Tracking Transparency update, which was introduced in April 2021, obliges app developers to ask users for permission before tracking them across other websites and apps using Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers. With users increasingly choosing to block tracking, advertisers are losing access to a valuable avenue to measuring their ads, forcing them to reassess their marketing strategies.

According to analysis by data management company Lotame, Facebook-parent company Meta will be the worst hit by the impact of Apple’s update, with the social media behemoth predicted to lose USD$12.8bn (£9.8bn) from its 2022 revenue.

Meta had anticipated that Apple’s privacy change would result in a significant blow to its revenue, predicting a USD$10bn loss in 2022 (£7.6bn). The company has, like other tech platforms, been developing new privacy-focused measurements to assuage the impact of Apple’s update, yet Meta is yet to confirm a complete policy update.

Meanwhile, Snapchat-owner Snap, is predicted to lose USD $546 million (£419m) in 2022, with microblogging site Twitter set for a similar blow, with predicted a loss of USD$323m (£247.9m). Alphabet-owned YouTube is expected to feel a “modest impact” from Apple’s update, with a predicted hit of USD$2.2bn (£1.6bn), 6.5% of its annual revenue.

Similar analysis carried out by Lotame in October estimated that Meta, Twitter, YouTube, and Snap lost revenue to the tune of USD$9.85bn (£7.5bn) in Q3 and Q4 2021 as a result of Apple's privacy changes, according to The Financial Times.


Time Out Group end London publication in move towards digital

Time Out Group has confirmed that the publication of its London print magazine will end in June 2022 as the company prioritises growing its digital presence.

Time Out was first published in London in 1968, and was renowned for its liberal viewpoint and forward-thinking approach to journalism. The magazine became a free, wholly ad-funded title in the capital in 2012, both to adapt to changing reader habits and to keep pace with other free publications, such as Stylist and Metro.

This move towards digital is not the first for Time Out Group, who turned to online, social, and video to maintain its presence during the coronavirus pandemic. As commutes were suspended and people remained indoors, Time Out rebranded itself as Time In, delivering content to help people keep entertained in the comfort of their own homes.

The company noted that the majority of its growth has continued to come from its digital channels, with Time Out Group's designated chief content officer North America and UK, Dave Calhoun, commenting that the lockdowns had "sped up the transformation" from print to digital only.

Although its London print edition will end, Time Out will continue to print in Lisbon, Barcelona, and Madrid, where its magazines are produced on a monthly or quarterly basis. The publication retains a global audience of 76.2 million people, and reaches 59 countries across various media channels, including digital, social, video and print.


Google pauses ads on content about Ukraine war

Tech giant Google has suspended advertising on certain content regarding the war in Ukraine, in a move to shut down propagandists and fake news profiteers.

In an email issued to publishers on Wednesday (13th April), Google stated that it would “pause monetisation of content that exploits, dismisses, or condones the war.” This extension of the company’s existing policy on content that denies the existence of tragic events or incites violence applies to apps, websites, and YouTube channels.

In response to the announcement, Russia has banned Google News in the country.

Early responses from publishers to Google’s decision have been cautious, with warnings that the company must act to protect legitimate publishers from being affected by opaque keyword blocking or automated policies.

Richard Reeves, managing director at the Association of Online Publishers, commented, “It is encouraging to see restrictions being put in place in an effort to diminish propaganda in Russia and stop the spread of false information. But we must also ensure that during this time, ethical publishers, who are providing much-needed truthful information, are not being unintentionally impacted by the use of vague keyword blocking or increased restrictions.”

Owen Meredith, chief executive of the News Media Association, commented, “Measures designed to target bad actors seeking to spread misinformation about the war are laudable, but must not put editorial control in the hands of Google’s algorithms as a consequence.”

Speaking to Press Gazette, a Google spokesperson confirmed “we’re taking additional steps to clarify, and in some instances expand our monetisation guidelines as they relate to the war in Ukraine.” The spokesperson also advised that broader news coverage of the war would not be affected.


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