Until now, Apple versus Google on privacy has focused on Android’s continual game of catch-up on mobile data permissions. But Apple is also pressuring Google when it comes to its feasting on data from the billion iPhone users. And just as with its other apps, Google’s Gmail is a privacy nightmare compared to Apple’s alternative. Earlier this year, Google cleverly allowed Facebook to play the role of minesweeper when Apple’s privacy labels exposed the sheer extent of the previously invisible data harvesting taking place. Google let its own iOS apps run stale, delaying updates until the furor had settled, before showing that its own apps were no better.
This week’s headlines pitted Apple against Facebook once more, as the iPhone maker’s ban on user monitoring threatens mobile ad income. While Facebook is plainly in Apple’s crosshairs, Google is being hammered just as hard as Facebook by the new and long-delayed flight to privacy. Gmail has already been chastised for its troubling privacy labelling. However, a recent Apple update, along with a privacy outcry this month against “creepy” mail monitoring, should be enough to persuade millions of users to deactivate their Gmail applications, guaranteeing that their data is not being covertly mined.
And so, one by one, we saw Google’s flagship iOS apps—Gmail, Maps, Photos, Chrome, YouTube, Docs—fill in the alarming blanks. And because this is Google, it was suddenly very important to remember that there’s an account-based system linking all these apps together and a spider’s web of trackers following users around. As DuckDuckGo warns, “Google’s trackers are installed on 75% of the top million websites—the next closest is Facebook at 25%. Google sells ads not only on their search engine, but also on over 2.2 million other websites and over 1 million apps. Every time you visit one of these sites or apps, Google is storing that information and using it to target ads at you.” Google dwarfs Facebook when it comes to this tracking—period.
But that puts the onus on you to police Google and actively check on what’s been collected, forming a judgement on what is appropriate and proportionate. As I’ve said many times, when it comes to platforms and services, just follow the money. Google generates its revenue from data-driven advertising. It’s not complicated. You don’t need to stop using Gmail itself, albeit remember that Google can see everything you’re doing server-side. But you should use Apple’s own Mail app with Gmail rather than the Gmail app. This stops Google gathering additional data through the app’s permission settings. It also means you can use email without any concerns that anyone—including Google—is hiding invisible trackers.