Google Play is making a bizarre decision to ban call recording apps

Google Play is making a bizarre decision to ban call recording apps

Getty Images | Aurich Lawson

Google has announced a bizarre policy that effectively bans apps for recording calls from the Play Store. As part of Google’s cracking of apps that use Android’s accessibility APIs for non-availability reasons, Google says call recording is no longer allowed through the accessibility APIs. Since the accessibility APIs are the only way for third-party apps to record calls on Android, call recording apps are dead in Google Play.

NLL Apps – the developer of a phone app for recording calls with a million downloads in the Play Store – has tracked the policy change. The Google Play Support page sets out the new law and states, “The accessibility API is not designed and can not be requested for long distance audio recording.” Google’s ban begins on May 11, the first day of Google I / O, oddly enough.

There is no clear reason why Google bans the recording of calls from the Play Store. Many jurisdictions require the consent of one or more members of a call to start recording, but once you meet this requirement, recording is perfectly legal and useful. The Google Recorder app is a product built solely around the usefulness of recording conversations. Google also does not seem to have a call recording problem when it comes to its own apps – the Google Phone app on Pixel phones supports call recording in some countries. Google just does not provide the right APIs to let third-party app developers compete with it in this market, and now it is shutting down their trial solutions.

The Android accessibility APIs are extremely powerful and enable all kinds of control over the Android OS. Google has previously said that it would be preferable if the accessibility APIs were only used by apps designed for people with disabilities, but because there are no non-accessibility options for many of the supported features, many superuser apps are still connected to the accessibility APIs. Google has said it wants to crack down on inaccessibility apps, but also that it wants to consider “responsible and innovative use of accessibility services.”

In the past, Google has removed apps from the accessibility APIs by supporting a specific use case with a more comprehensive set of official APIs, and it looks like that was the plan at the time of recording calls, but Google gave up on last these plans. In 2020, the second Android 11 Developer Preview briefly added an “ACCESS_CALL_AUDIO” API for recording, but this API never became a final release of Android. It seems like it would have been a reasonable strategy to go through with this: First support call recording with a proper API, then a few years later block apps from using the Accessibility API for call recording. Instead, the way Google did, effectively bans all apps for recording calls from the Play Store. The good news is that you can always sideload!