Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120, has shifted its focus to working on AI projects across Google after cutting all but three of its projects. One of the legacy efforts, Checks, an AI-powered tool that checks mobile apps for compliance with various privacy rules and regulations, has now officially exited Google and will sit in the Developer X division as a privacy product aimed at mobile developers. The move comes at a time when app publishers face a growing array of rules and regulations around data protection and privacy.
Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120, has shifted its focus to working on AI projects across Google after cutting all but three of its projects. One of the legacy efforts, an AI-powered tool called Checks, has now officially exited Google and will sit in the Developer X division as a privacy product aimed at mobile developers.
Checks, which checks mobile apps for compliance with various privacy rules and regulations, was one of the largest projects in the group with 10 people fully dedicated to it and several others contributing less formally. Co-founders Fergus Hurley and Nia Castelly will now become GM and Legal Lead, respectively, for Checks under Google. The amount that Google invested in the project was never disclosed, nor was the valuation of the exit to the parent company from the incubator, but the company has confirmed that there was a valuation and that it had grown since launch.
Checks have customers in sectors such as gaming, health, finance, education, and retail, including Miniclip, Rovio, Kongregate, Crayola, and Yousician. In total, the number of customers represented by its customers is over 3 billion. However, the company is not disclosing how many customers it has in total.
Checks lean on artificial intelligence and machine learning to scan apps and their code to identify areas where there might be violations of privacy and data protection rules and provide remediation to suggest how to fix it. It is already integrated with Google’s large language models and “app understanding technologies” to power what it identifies and make suggestions for fixing issues. A dashboard lets users monitor and triage issues in the areas of compliance monitoring, data monitoring, and store disclosure support (which is focused specifically on Google Play data safety). With the service also aimed at iOS developers, it’s not clear if it will add Apple App Store data safety at any point into that mix.
App publishers these days are faced with a growing array of rules and regulations around data protection and privacy, not just rules like GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California (and the U.S.) set across different countries and jurisdictions, but also by companies that operate platforms within their compliance efforts. When translated into how those regulations impact apps, there are potential issues at the front end, as well as on the back end, with how apps are coded and information moves from one place to another to consider. Checks can scan apps and their code to identify these potential issues quickly and provide suggestions for fixing them.
The other two projects that were spared all-out closure after Area 120 changed focus are the video dubbing solution Aloud and an as-yet-unnamed consumer product from the team that had previously built a bookmarking app Liist. Liist’s co-founder David Friedl still describes himself on LinkedIn as working on a stealth product at Area 120, and Aloud is still using an Area 120 URL, so it seems that they remain in a holding pattern.
In the meantime, Area 120 is also seeing some revolving doors. Clay Bavor, who was running Area 120, among other things, and who messaged the big changes to staff in January, was out the door just a month later. He has now teamed up with Bret Taylor—another ex-Googler who has an outsized track record that includes being the CTO of Facebook and the co-CEO of Salesforce—to work on a mystery startup.
Checks are one of those ideas that feel incredibly timely in that it speaks to an issue that’s growing in importance for consumers, who will vote with their feet when they feel that their privacy is in jeopardy. That, in turn, also puts more pressure on developers to get things right on the privacy front.