While Google has already enumerated the main highlights of Android 8.0 Oreo, it isn’t uncommon that some of the finer details are revealed or discovered only later on. One example is Rescue Party, a band aid or user-caused bootloops. This new change, on the other hand, might cause users a bit of confusion. Gone is the checkbox that allows users to install Android apps outside of Google Play Store. But have no fear, Google just changed its location on a per-app basis.
One of the great things about Android is that, while Google has its officially sanctioned app store, it isn’t doing anything to block users from installing apps from other sources. It does take pains to make users aware of the risks involved but also gives them a global switch to allow any and all apps to be sideloaded moving forward.
While convenient, this has been abused by Potentially Harmful Apps or PHAs to trick users into allowing for the installation of malware. It might start innocently enough, with the user installing a truly clean app or game. That app, however, could install additional data pretending to be updates but are, in reality, malware. And since you already gave wholesale permission to third-party apps, you’re pretty much done for, security-wise.
So in Android Oreo, Google has removed that Unknown Sources switch. But don’t worry, you can still install apps from sources other than Google Play Store. But instead of being a user setting, Google has turned it into an “Install unknown apps” permission that a developer has to explicitly enable for an app. By turning it into a permission, users have to agree to the warning each and every time they try to install such an app. Plus, the permission is asked before the app is actually installed. Another benefit is that the user can check which apps have been given such a permission and revoke it at any time.
It might feel like nagware, especially for users who install a lot of APKs or apps from third-party repositories, like F-droid. That said, Android did have an option before to only allow an installation for a case to case basis, which disappeared a few versions back. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a compromise between letting all sorts of apps loose on Android or locking Android down completely, neither of which users will want.