Android is often lauded for having an open platform that gives developers a lot of leeway to perform things many of the platform’s rivals withhold. Unfortunately, there will always be those who will try and abuse that freedom for personal gain. That is why Google gave Android app developers an ultimatum last month to only use Accessibility Services if their app is intended for that and that purpose only. In its zeal to protect its platform however, Google may have jumped the gun, which it seems to have realized, causing it to stay its 30-day deadline.
As the name implies, Android’s Accessibility API is primarily designed to help users with handicaps. These include automatically filling out forms, automating actions, or controlling certain settings. Unsurprisingly, these features have also been used by malware makers to gain control of a user’s phone. In response to criticisms of Android’s weak security, Google decided to crack down on abuses of the Accessibility Services.
Unfortunately, Google cast its net perhaps far too wide. In its initial warning, it threatened to remove any app that used Accessibility API that wasn’t designed to help disabled users. Those APIs, however, were also used by popular and extremely useful apps like password managers prior to Android 8.0, Tasker automation, Greenify battery saver, and resource usage monitors. Naturally, there was no small amount of backlash from developers and users alike.
Google has now sent another email that basically says “we’ll think about it.” It is evaluating “responsible and innovative use” of those services on a case to case basis. It is also requiring developers to explicitly inform users why they are asking for accessibility permissions rather than just informing them.
This, of course, puts a heavier burden on Google, as it has to be more involved in the screening of apps rather than just rely on good ol’ machine learning and automation. Developers and users probably won’t mind, if it means still having access to those features that make Android a platform above all the rest.