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Google emphasizes security, privacy in Android 12 preview

Google highlighted privacy and security changes in the Android 12 developer preview. The OS, expected this fall, standardizes password complexity requirements for enterprise users.

Google has released the first developer preview for Android 12, emphasizing security and privacy in the mobile operating system.

Dave Burke, Google vice president of engineering, introduced the release in a blog post, inviting developers to try new features and test their current apps for compatibility. The Android 12 preview is meant for developers exclusively and works on only Pixel phones. Google said it will have a public beta for the OS as it nears completion this year.

Android 12 standardizes password complexity requirements for work profiles, but IT administrators can require more complicated ones. When a worker uses a weak password to access a device, the OS will ask that the password be strengthened or replaced with a new one.

The Android 12 preview will help workers on unmanaged devices securely access employer services by letting apps handle certificate management. Such a change would benefit companies that use contractors because it is often unfeasible to install management software on their phones, Forrester Research analyst Andrew Hewitt said.

Google wants to improve consumer and employee privacy in Android 12 by relying less on unchangeable information to identify a device. For example, the OS restricts a consumer app's access to a device's unique MAC address for tracking purposes. Instead, Google encourages developers to use an identifier the user can control, like Google's Advertising ID.

Android 12
Google's logo for Android 12, available as a developer preview.

Companies using a device management platform won't be able to use a device's serial number or International Mobile Equipment Identity code to identify it. Instead, Android will generate a temporary ID number that's useful only while the employee is with the company.

Apple, Google's main competitor in the mobile OS space, has made privacy a key selling point. The company requires that apps in its store include standardized privacy notices. An upcoming iOS update will also ensure that iPhone users opt in before apps can track their activity across other companies' apps and websites.

Hewitt said the privacy focus of Android 12 shows Google does not want to lag behind Apple. Forrester data showed that smartphone buyers from younger generations are increasingly concerned with privacy.

Google expects to release Android 12 in the fall. The company launched the developer preview for Android 11 in February 2020 and made the OS available to the public in September.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering end-user computing topics such as desktop management. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily News, Walpole Times, Sharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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