Android finally addresses clipboard vulnerability, after Apple
In anticipation of the upcoming Android 12 OS update, which is simmering in the pot for another few months, we've been keeping our eyes and ears peeled for any news about what Google will be bringing to the table. We can't help but wonder how it will match up against Apple's own impending update, iOS 14.5.
Apple First Discovered Clipboard Privacy Threat
We found out from XDA Developers (through iMore) that the new Android version is about to pull an ace from up its sleeve—ahem, from up Apple's sleeve—when it comes to one particular new privacy feature.
It seems Google isn't too proud to learn from the other masters in the business, after all. And especially with Apple's ultra-privacy-friendly App-Tracking Transparency feature becoming a viral highlight of its own iOS update, Google had to step up their game and has announced it's taking care of a long-existing privacy issue.
Just last summer, Apple discovered that many apps, such as LinkedIn, Reddit, Google News, TikTok, and others, had been preying on a weakness that left smartphone owners' mobile clipboards vulnerable. As soon as you copied something on your phone, other apps could automatically access and read it even before you pasted it anywhere else.
This Can Be More Serious Than It Sounds...
When you copy something to paste it to somewhere else, such as a message, that information stays copied forever (or until you copy something else, usually). Your phone's clipboard is where that copied material is stored, whether it's text, image or video.
Imagine if you're copying a credit card number so you don't have to re-enter it (something I've often done)—who knows how many third-party apps could be saving that information. The issue wasn't confined to iPhones, either.
Apple patched this problem with iOS 14, when it introduced a pop-up notification to alert you every time an app has accessed your clipboard, just as it does with mic and camera access.
iPhones are capable of storing one and only one copied item in their clipboard—and that's what Google technically designed for Android as well.
However, if you have a Samsung phone, the Korean tech giant has actually made it possible to access up to 20 previously copied items in your phone's clipboard. (Even if you're with a different Android device, you can download apps such as Clip Stack to artificially increase clipboard capacity.)
Google Basically Copy-Pasted from iOS 14
You can start to see how apps having unlimited access to your Android clipboard, unbeknownst to you, could pose a serious problem. And it was—until now (or the very near future).
With the release of Android 12, Google is following in Apple's footsteps and adding pop-ups to let you know if your clipboard is being used by another app. Not only does the feature have the same function as Apple's, but the pop-ups will look just like Apple's notification, too.
However, in this case, Google is actually about to one-up Apple. It will be including a way for users who value a streamlined experience over complete privacy control to turn off the new clipboard privacy notifications—something Apple doesn't have yet.
Mind you, the new clipboard notifications feature is only a drop in the bucket of what's coming: we've also got plenty more juicy tidbits about Android 12 that we've collected for you. It's going to be a pretty significant update, we'll say that much!