Google’s suppression of third-party Android call recorders may finally be over

Google is changing its Play Store policy to crack down on a solution used by call recording apps, potentially closing the last loophole that allowed these apps to exist (via NLL Apps on Reddit). On May 11, a rule specifying that the “Accessibility API is not designed and cannot be requested for long distance audio recording” will take effect, making it impossible for apps to record audio from a call.

As XDA points out that Google has been playing with call recording methods since it removed the official API with Android 6. In an email to The edge, Google spokesman Dan Jackson said the reason for the change is that call recording was an inappropriate use of the accessibility API. “Only services designed to help people with disabilities access their device or otherwise overcome challenges arising from their disabilities are eligible to declare that they are accessibility tools. It should be obvious when you read the description of an accessibility tool in the Google Play Store, who these users are and how the app helps them meet the challenges they face, ”he said.

Here are the new guidelines:

The Accessibility API is not designed and remote call sound recording cannot be requested.

The use of the Accessibility API must be documented in the Google Play directory.

IsAccessibilityTool Guidelines

Apps with a core functionality designed to directly support people with disabilities are eligible to use the IsAccessibilityTool to publicly designate themselves as an accessibility app.

Apps that are not eligible for IsAccessibilityTool may not use the flag and must meet prominent disclosure and consent requirements as described in the user data policy, as the accessibility-related functionality is not obvious to the user. See the AccessibilityService API Help article for more information.

Apps need to use narrower scope APIs and permissions instead of the Accessibility API whenever possible to achieve the desired functionality.

While it’s understandable that Google does not want apps that use accessibility features outside of their intended purpose, it seems unlikely that this downfall will help maintain privacy, as Google’s own phone app allows you to record calls. (Other standard phone apps, like Samsung, are also allowed to retain their call recording functionality as they do not use the availability API to get the call volume).

A developer webinar with more details on its policy updates, including the one affecting call recorders.

The Google app alerts both parties when a call is recorded, which is mandatory in some areas. While third-party apps may not, it looks like Google could force them to do so by building the functionality into a call recording API for Android. Google reportedly worked on one for Android 11, but it did not officially enter the operating system.

This change may also not prevent potential malware from secretly recording your calls. The API will still be there, and it seems unlikely that hackers are concerned about Play Store rules. However, legitimate call recording apps may end up getting updates rejected if they use this solution in May – and may even be removed from the store.