Google’s crackdown on third-party Android call recorders may finally be complete

But Google’s own app can still record calls.
Artwork by Alex Castro/The Verge

Google is changing its Play Store policy to restrict a workaround that call recording apps were using, potentially closing the last loophole that allowed those apps to exist (via NLL-Apps on Reddit). On May 11, a rule clarifying that “Accessibility API is not designed and cannot be requested for remote call audio recording” will go into effect, which will prevent apps from recording audio. audio of a call.

Like XDA points out, Google played whack-a-mole with call recording methods after removing the official API with Android 6. In an email to The edge, Google spokesman Dan Jackson said the reason for the change was that call recording was an inappropriate use of the Accessibility API. “Only services designed to help people with disabilities access their device or overcome challenges related to their disability can claim to be accessibility tools. It should be obvious when reading the Google Play Store description of an accessibility tool who these users are and how the app helps them with the challenges they face,” he said.

Here are the new guidelines:

The Accessibility API is not designed and cannot be requested for audio recording of remote calls.

Use of the Accessibility API should be documented in the Google Play listing.

Directives for IsAccessibilityTool

Apps with basic functionality intended to directly support people with disabilities can use IsAccessibilityTool to appropriately identify themselves publicly as an accessibility app.

Apps not eligible for IsAccessibilityTool cannot use the flag and must meet key disclosure and consent requirements as outlined in the User Data Policy, as accessibility-related functionality is not obvious to the user. ‘user. Please see the AccessibilityService API Help Center article for more information.

Applications should use more restricted APIs and permissions instead of the Accessibility API when possible to achieve the desired functionality.

While it’s understandable that Google doesn’t want apps to use accessibility features outside of their intended purpose, it seems unlikely that this crackdown will help preserve privacy given that Google’s own phone app lets you natively record calls. (Other default phone apps, like Samsung’s, will also be allowed to retain their call recording functionality, as they don’t use the Accessibility API to get call audio. )

A developer webinar with more details on its policy updates, including one affecting call recorders.

Google’s app notifies both parties when a call is recorded, which is legally required in some regions. Although third-party apps aren’t, it looks like Google might force them to do so by embedding the feature into a call recording API for Android. Google is reportedly working on one for Android 11, but it hasn’t officially made it into the operating system.

This change may also not prevent potential malware from secretly recording your calls. The API will still be there, and hackers seem unlikely to care about Play Store rules. However, legitimate call recording apps may end up having their updates rejected if they use this workaround in May – and may even be removed from the store.

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