Google spells death for third-party call recording apps once and for all

It became increasingly difficult to record calls to third-party apps, and soon it might just become impossible

The Google Phone app, pre-installed on the latest Pixel handsets and many other great Android phones, has the ability to record calls in some areas, at least where it’s legal. In the rest of the world, and on phones that do not come with built-in capabilities, you will instead have to rely on third-party recording apps. However, it appears that Google will crack down on these services and block them from using accessibility services for this purpose.

As discovered by the developer of the popular Call Recorder ACR app on Reddit, an upcoming Play Store policy, first announced in early April, will ban apps from using the Accessibility API to record calls. That is, if they want to distribute their apps on Google’s storefront. The policy clearly states that “The Accessibility API is not designed and can not be requested for long distance audio recording.” In addition, the use of the API must be documented in the Play Store directory, and apps not built with accessibility use in mind must primarily add disclaimers and require the express consent of users before they can use them. These new rules will enter into force on 11 May 2022.

In a webinar, Google further explains what the changes will mean. In it, a Google Play Trust & Safety employee explains that the new policy will specifically affect apps used to record calls with the person on the other end unaware of being recorded, which is usually only possible with third-party apps. This is in contrast to preloaded and standard apps that do not require accessibility services to enable this functionality – such as Google Phone.

Dan Jackson, Head of Policy Communication for Android and Google Play, confirmed this to us, saying “Google Play allows the use of the Accessibility API for a wide range of applications. However, only services designed to help people with disabilities . accessing their device or otherwise overcoming challenges arising from their disability is entitled to declare them to be accessibility tools. ” Google is very encouraging that only accessibility apps use accessibility services and has already cracked down on many other usage issues. However, some apps that are not accessibility tools can still use the Accessibility API when declaring what they are used for in their Play Store listing – just not for recording calls anymore.

Google has been cracking down on third-party recording apps for years. After the company removed Android’s official call recording API in version 6 Marshmallow, it further restricted access to phone sound in Android 9 Pie by phasing out more APIs. Developers have since turned to accessibility services, but with these out of the way for those who want to distribute their apps via the Play Store, recording third-party calls may soon be completely off the table – at least for anyone who gets their apps from Play Store.

So far, it is unclear whether apps that continue to use this method will be directly excluded from the Play Store, or whether there is a grace period that extends beyond May 11th. We expect apps to follow this guideline when they are released or updated after that date, but it is also possible that Google would ban distribution directly.

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