Hands-on with Privacy Dashboard, one of Android 12’s best new features

More app transparency is always helpful.

Among the plethora of privacy and security features coming in Android 12, the Privacy Dashboard will probably help people the most. It’s a new option in the Settings menu that gives you transparency about which apps use your phone’s permissions at any given time.

This is a long pending feature that will benefit a lot of people. However, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

Android 12 hands-on: The most personal Android ever

How does the Android Privacy Dashboard work?

Right now, the Android Privacy Dashboard is only available on the second Android 12 beta. If your Pixel phone has the right software, go to head Settings > Privacy > Privacy Dashboard. The option is found just above the Permission Manager. These two options actually work together, but we’ll talk more about that later.

In the Privacy Dashboard, you’ll see a colorful pie chart and a list of your phone’s permissions below it. One thing to note right away is that system apps are not included in the charts by default; You need to enable them from the overflow menu on the top-right corner of your screen.

The pie chart represents all the permissions accessed by your installed apps in the last 24 hours. This part is straight. If an app accesses your location, it will be added to the “Locations” section on the pie chart.

At this time, the Privacy Dashboard only really gives you details about your location, camera, and microphone permissions. All the others are grouped into an “other” category, which isn’t really helpful at all.

If you want to dig into your location, camera, or microphone permissions, select an option from the list at the bottom of the pie chart. You will then see a “Permission History” timeline showing when each app accessed that particular permission. You can also toggle the “Show system” option on or off from this screen.

Let’s use location permission in this example. The Permission History page shows a clear timeline of when the Google app, Google Fi, and Google Play Services accessed my location in the last 24 hours (I haven’t used this phone much in the last 24 hours). If I want to edit the Google app’s location access, I can select the app from the timeline and change it from there. Or, if I wanted to manage all of my phone’s location permissions, I could select the big blue Manage Permissions button at the bottom.

If an app uses the permission for a long time, it will display that information as well. I used Telegram to send a two minute video message. After a while, Telegram showed up on my camera and microphone timeline with a “2 minutes” indicator at the bottom. This can potentially help you find strange apps that are using and abusing your phone’s permissions without your knowledge.

Other permissions such as call logs, calendar, and phone are available in the Privacy Dashboard, but lack the useful permission history timeline. For example, tapping the Contacts option in the Privacy Dashboard lets you manage your phone’s Contacts permission, but doesn’t show which apps accessed that permission and when.

We’ve contacted Google for comment on the limitations of the Privacy Dashboard and will update this article when we learn more.

New quick setting tiles and real-time indicators

and that’s not all. Two other Android 12 features aim to give you more control over your privacy. We’ve talked about them before, but this is the first time we’re using them.

Android 12 beta 2 has two new quick settings tiles: Camera Access and Microphone Access. The tiles act as on/off buttons for those permissions. If your camera permission is enabled, but you want to turn it off, tap the quick settings tile to turn it off – the same applies for microphone permission.

You can also see if an app is using your camera or microphone in real-time. Whenever an app (or system) is using your camera or microphone, a new indicator will appear in the upper-right corner of your screen. If you need more information, tap the indicator, and you’ll see a message that says something like “Using by recorder” or “Using by camera.” From there, you can tap on that message to quickly start setting up your camera or microphone permission.

I like where Google is going with its new privacy features. It’s no secret that Google is falling behind some competitors with regards to app privacy and transparency features, and it seems like a good start for the Android ecosystem.

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