For years, Google has allowed Android apps to use Accessibility Services – means allowing them to modify the behavior of other applications. While the actual purpose behind this is to create apps for users with disabilities, but the API is often used for other functionalities like, to overlay content or to fill in text fields.
While Accessibility Services can extend the functionality of applications, they can also create a security risk. Now, Android Police reports that Google is taking a step likely for this reason and has sent emails to app developers.
The developer behind BatterySaver received this message:
“We’re contacting you because your app, BatterySaver System Shortcut, with package name com.floriandraschbacher.batterysaver.free is requesting the ‘android.permission.BIND_ACCESSIBILITY_SERVICE.’ Apps requesting accessibility services should only be used to help users with disabilities use Android devices and apps. Your app must comply with our Permissions policy and the Prominent Disclosure requirements of our User Data policy.
Action required: If you aren’t already doing so, you must explain to users how your app is using the ‘android.permission.BIND_ACCESSIBILITY_SERVICE’ to help users with disabilities use Android devices and apps. Apps that fail to meet this requirement within 30 days may be removed from Google Play. Alternatively, you can remove any requests for accessibility services within your app. You can also choose to unpublish your app. […]
Alternatively, you can choose to unpublish the app.
All violations are tracked. Serious or repeated violations of any nature will result in the termination of your developer account, and investigation and possible termination of related Google accounts.
If you’ve reviewed the policy and feel we may have been in error, please reach out to our policy support team. One of my colleagues will get back to you within 2 business days.
The Google Play Review Team”
Many other developers have also received similar emails, and there is a Reddit thread that discusses it.
This unexpected step from Google means many apps will have to, either degrade their functionality, or convince Google that users with disabilities benefit from them. Otherwise, such apps can’t remain on the Play Store.
Google hasn’t commented on the issue yet.