Trust is the crux of Google Play.
With effect from October 2018, Google has brought about certain important updates to Android APIs and Play policies. Based on user requests for improvements and also to address some of their frustrations, Google made these modifications in alignment with the user feedback received and after its communication to the developer community.
Need for changes in Android Developer Policies
As a completely open source operating system – Android was developed as an easy-to-use platform providing backward compatibility and API consistency. Every time users download apps from Google Play, trust plays a crucial role. It is essential that the apps do not contain any offensive materials; user information is not misused or lead to the inappropriate performance of the apps. To ensure that billions of users download trusted apps through Google Play and to provide users with more control and transparency on how apps are using their personal information, the updates in Google’s new Android Developer Policies reiterates commitment to user trust.
Dismay among developers and users
When the changes to Google’s Policies came into effect in October 2018, the developers were given 90 days to modify their apps in compliance with the new policy. Any non-conformance risked the delisting of the apps from the Play Store. Features formerly granted to the apps were no longer available under the new policy. However, this resulted in creating distress among Android developers and users alike. On April 15, 2019, Google announced changes to its review process to address developer grievances and its enforcement practices.
Here’s a closer look at the permissions and the modifications for the new Android Developer Policies of Google.
Additional Modifications to Android Q Beta
Earlier during the year, to protect personal data, Google introduced Android Q Beta with a host of amazing features and capabilities that render more control and transparency to its users. With system-level changes introduced in Q, Google is reviewing and refining its Play Developer Policies. Some of the highlights of the changes are as below.
- Aimed at the stronger safeguard of user privacy, with scoped storage, Android Q gives more control to users on how apps can access files on external storage.
- The user may allow access to device location only when the app is in the forefront.
- The new Android Q privacy changes restrict the starting of the activities on the apps.
- Such restrictions help users control what is visible on their screen with reduced interruptions.
- New restrictions are placed on accessing data and system identifiers such as IMEI, serial number, MAC, or any other similar data.
- Android Q places restrictions on access to camera information and connectivity data. Now, apps running on Android Q cannot enable or disable Wi-Fi connectivity.
Restriction on SMS and Call Log permissions
In October 2018, under the banner of Project Strobe, Google released an update to the utilization of personal data by including third-party access to private data through APIs. Basically, it stemmed from the fact that Google plus was shutting off due to the uncovering of an API bug providing improper access to data.
Meanwhile, Google began with changes to SMS and Call Log permissions. To provide better protection of sensitive user information, on select cases access restrictions were placed. Thus, apps chosen by the user as the default app for making calls or text messages could make such requests. As a result, according to Google, the number of apps having access to sensitive user data dropped by more than 98%. Eventually, apps were able to explore alternatives or delete minor features. Google opines that these changes are critical in evolving the platform and strengthening the privacy data protection of its users.
Restrictions eliminated functionalities found valuable by the users
The enforcement of these new changes to the SMS and Call Log permissions meant that users had to forgo the features with valuable functionalities. Add to this; the developer community felt the use case descriptions were unclear and difficult to complete correctly in Google’s permissions declaration forms.
It led independent developers to resort to community boards such as Google’s Issue Tracker and Reddit put their complaints across. For instance, EasyJoin Pro is an app which enables internet-less interaction with all devices in the network with the installed app. Google declared the feature of text messages and calls sent to remote devices was allowed but may not deem it necessary as a core function of the app jeopardizing the functionality of the app.
Similarly, another app – ACR Call Recorder had restricted permission access to record phone calls. Further, the automation app – Tasker was at the verge of losing similar functionality; however, their appeal resulted in the inclusion of “task automation” as a rational exception. Such instances led to frustration among the developers regarding Google’s decision-making process.
Google assures “real human” involvement in the review and appeals process
While some of the developers felt it was taking an awfully long time to get answers if their apps complied with the privacy policies, many others felt the appeal process was too cumbersome plagued with longer duration for decisions on the appeals. Also, some of them thought that decisions were automated without real human involvement. Many believed that it was difficult to reach a person at Google who could clarify their concerns related to policy decisions.
In order to put to rest the air of confusion and frustration surrounding the new policy decisions, Google is revising its email communication to elaborate in detail rejections and appeals, substantiate the reason for such decisions and provide actionable recourse in terms of modifications to the app for compliance and the appeal process to be followed.
Also, Google will include appeal instructions in its enforcement email with the detailed information provided on appeal form in Google’s Help Center. Google assures to review, improve and accelerate its appeals process by expanding its team. Further, Google adds, humans, not bots, would review decisions and provide more personalized responses.
Critical examination of the apps of new developers during their submission
Some of the developers raised their concerns over blocking of their accounts and not allowing for the distribution of the apps via Google Play. According to Google, such accounts were suspended for serious and repetitive violation of policies to protect user interests. While Google says 99% of the account suspension decisions were correct, any account disabled by error would be reviewed by a person through the appeals process. Accounts will be reinstated if it is found to be done by error.
Google reaffirms its commitment to do a rigorous evaluation of the apps of new developers without a track record with Google and would take longer time (days and not weeks) to do thorough checks before the approval and going live on the app store.
To make Android an incredible platform for both developers and users, Google’s New Android Developer Policy is a stern step towards helping millions of people across the globe experience trust. With a developer-centric approach and openness as Android’s philosophy, Google reflects its commitment through these changes.