Google has made changes to its Play Store policies, effectively banning third-party call-recording apps beginning May 11, claiming it seeks to close alternative use accessibility APIs for things other than accessibility.
Google has for a while blocked real call recording on Android 6 and over the microphone on Android 10. Developers have been using accessibility APIs as a workaround to enable the recording of calls on Android.
Accessibility Service APIs are tools that offer additional services that can help those with disabilities overcome challenges. Using these services against their designed intentions, i.e. to achieve a goal not geared at overcoming disabilities, remains the only way for third-party apps to record calls.
But with the forthcoming policy, the workaround will no longer be available – at least through the Google Play Store version of the Accessibility Service.
“The Accessibility API is not designed and cannot be requested for remote call audio recording,” said Google in its original announcement of the policy change.
The Chocolate Factory has been hinting since at least 2017 that it wants to remove apps with accessibility services that are not designed for disabled folks from the Play Store. It sent letters to app developers in November 2017 stating that accessibility services should only be used to help users with disabilities. Public outcry led Google to pause on any further action.
The policy was announced back on April 6, alongside other changes, but didn’t immediately raise many eyebrows.
However, Google livestreamed a developer policy update on Thursday where it said the call-recording policy was simply a “clarification to an existing policy.”
The video is mislabeled as April 2020. It was indeed livestreamed in April 2022. According to developer NLL on Reddit, this was not the only error made by Google.
“If you watch the video however, you will see that the speaker mistakenly claiming phone apps having access to call audio. This is not correct, only phone [apps] that come with your phone or made by Google can access the call audio. Third party apps cannot,” said NLL, who makes recording app Another Call Recorder (ACR).
Those against the ban have argued that preventing users from recording calls via Google Play Store apps will only incentivize them to find dodgy apps elsewhere.
Also, the policy does not apply to default dialer apps – those that come preinstalled on a device. So in the end, the ramification is that users may very well seek out those apps not in the Google Play Store, but more likely will stick to the likes of preinstalled apps like Google Phone or Xiaomi’s Mi Dialer. ®
Coincidentally, the day the policy goes into effect, May 11, is also the first day of annual developer conference Google I/O. ®