Google Tightens Up On App Privacy: What’s Changing

Today, many apps can know what other apps are installed on their smartphones, but as of May 5, a new privacy policy imposed by Google takes effect.

A new Google squeeze on app privacy is coming. The new changes made to the Developer Program Policy, made to protect user data stored within devices running the Android operating system, will make it more complex to view each other's installed apps.

With the new policy, Big G takes another step forward against any illegal behavior behind users' backs. Google's choice on data privacy protection is just the latest in order of time. In fact, at the end of last year, it was Apple that requested developers to provide full documentation on the information read by their apps once installed on devices, under penalty of blocking updates on the App Store. In that case, it was Google itself that had to block updates to its main apps, leaving users of Apple's devices far behind their Android cousins.

App privacy, what's changed with Google's clampdown

About the limitation, Google's modus operandi is to restrict the number of apps that can request the QUERY_ALL_PACKAGES permission. The command is currently taken advantage of by those apps that use APIs of level 30 or higher to request the list of apps installed on devices running Android 11 or later.

In the future, the use of the QUERY_ALL_PACKAGES permission will only be assigned in case those apps indispensably need the list of apps present on the device to perform their operation. To request this, developers will be required to provide thorough documentation, including reasons as to why less intrusive methods cannot be used.

To provide a more complete picture to developers, Google pointed out, "Permitted use covers apps that need to detect all apps installed on the device and that for awareness or interoperability reasons may be eligible for permission. Permitted use includes: device search, antivirus apps, file managers and browsers."

App privacy, what happens to those who don't meet the criteria

All apps that don't meet the criteria to make use of the command will, therefore, be left with only one way forward: they will have to remove the request from their code. The change will have to be made by May 5, 2021, the date when the new privacy policy introduced by Big G will come into force. The change must be made by May 5, 2021, the date when the new privacy policy introduced by Big G will come into effect. This comes a few months ahead of Mountain View's request for compatibility with Android 11 or higher, which is why the timeframe was shortened.

All other apps, however, will have to be accompanied by the statement signed by the developer in the Play Console, similar to what already happens with apps that record phone calls or read text messages. The lack of such documentation, in fact, could cost you removal from the Google Play Store.