It was recently discovered that thousands of Android apps are illegally tracking children in a brazen violation of privacy laws, following which Google started an investigation and promised strict action against developers of such apps. It now appears that Google is also developing a fix to patch another privacy flaw that will prevent Android apps from tracking network activity.
According to a report from XDA-Developers, Android P will introduce native safeguards that will prevent apps from accessing network activity files, which contain information such as details about other apps which connect to the internet, when those apps go online, what server they connect to, etc.
A new commit spotted in the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) clearly states that ‘Start the process of locking down proc/net. Files in /proc/net leak information. This change is the first step in determining which files apps may use, whitelisting benign access, and otherwise removing access while providing safe alternative APIs’. So, what does that mean? Well, /proc/net is a virtual directory which stores information such as network statistics and related networking parameters.
Currently, Android apps have no restriction when it comes to accessing /proc/net files, which means they can track your device’s network activity and send the data to developers. But thanks to the change, access to the files containing network connectivity details will be selectively restricted. Moreover, all the apps which seek to access the /proc/net files will be thoroughly checked to make sure that possibilities of abusive usage are curbed.
However, XDA-Developers’ report states that the changes will only be live for apps targeting API level 28, which means the new privacy tools might appear in Android P or its Developer Preview soon. As for apps targeting API levels lower than 28 (basically all the apps available right now running on different builds of Android), they will continue to have access to the network activity files. However, it is not known whether these changes will be backported to cover apps running on older Android builds.