Google updated their PlayStore policy to restrict Accessibility API access for call recording purposes. This will essentially make it impossible for third-party apps to record calls. The change will come into effect on May 11, 2022.
A Reddit user who is also the developer of a popular call recording app noticed it. In addition to this change, the policy states that the app must document the use of this API in the Play Store listing. Further, apps that are not primarily built for accessibility use cases must add disclaimers and ask for explicit consent from users.
Here is the screenshot for the policy change:
In a webinar, Google further explains the policy changes. Talking about restricting the Accessibility API for call recording apps, a Google Play Trust & Safety employee explained the new policy is targeting specific apps that record calls without the other person knowing about it. This is possible with most third-party apps.
Dan Jackson who is the Head of Policy Communications for Android and Google Play explains it further. He says the Accessibility APIs are designed to help people with disabilities access the device better and overcome challenges that arise from their disabilities. These apps can declare themselves as accessibility tools in their Play Store submission. However, Google discourages other Accessibility API use-cases which have nothing to do with improving accessibility.
A loophole with system apps
However, there is a major loophole. Google’s policy applies only to third-party call recording apps on the Play Store. Many phones like Google Pixel and Xiaomi phones have their dialer apps giving a call recording facility.
This is because, if the app is a default dialer that comes with the phone, accessibility capability is not necessary to capture the incoming audio. And thus it will not be a violation. Google employee explains this in the Google Play Store Developer policy updates webinar as well.
New Pixel handsets and many other Android phones provide the capability of recording calls in some regions where it is legal. In other places where this capability is not present, people often rely on these third-party call recording apps.
Not a new policy
This is, however, not a new change in Google’s policy direction. Google has been cracking down on these third-party recording apps for a while now. In Android 6 Marshmallow, Google officially removed the call recording API. Android 9 Pie further restricted access to incoming audio by deprecating more APIs. In Android 10, Google blocked call recording by default.
Each time the developers found another way to record calls. The latest method uses Accessibility APIs. With this crackdown, it seems unlikely that Google will tolerate these call-recording apps anymore. Even if the developers find a way, it will just be a matter of time before Google bans them again.
It remains to be seen if the apps will be outrightly banned from the Play Store after May 11. Call recording apps as an invasion of privacy have been coming into the limelight in many countries. Google does not want to be put on the wrong side of the law and hence takes these steps in the name of privacy and security.
Do you use these call recording apps? If you do, our suggestion will be to move to a phone which has this feature in the dialer app itself.
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