Google will finally let file manager apps request “All Files Access” on Android 11 next month
Google has started to send out emails to developers whose apps request broad access to device storage. The email tells developers that, starting May 5th, they must inform Google why their app requests broad storage access or they won’t be allowed to publish updates that target Android 11.
Prior to Android 11, apps could request broad access to a device’s storage by declaring the READ_EXTERNAL_STORAGE permission in their Manifest and asking the user to grant it. Many apps that had no legitimate need to read all the files stored on the device’s storage were requesting this permission, causing Google to narrow storage access permissions with Android 11’s “Scoped Storage” changes. However, for apps that legitimately need broader storage access, such as file managers, Google encouraged them to continue to target Android 10 (API level 29) and to request “legacy” storage access by declaring
requestLegacyExternalStorage=true in their Manifest.
Legacy access allows apps to have broad access to the device’s storage without being subjected to Scoped Storage restrictions. However, all apps that target Android 11 (API level 30) and above are subject to Scoped Storage restrictions and cannot request legacy access to device storage. Instead, they must request a new permission called MANAGE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE (shown to the user as “All Files Access”) to be given broad storage access (excluding a handful of directories like /Android/data or /Android/obb).
Starting November of 2021, all apps and app updates submitted to Google Play must target Android 11, meaning that file manager apps and other apps that need broader storage access must eventually switch to the Scoped Storage model and request the All Files Access permission. The only problem is that Google currently doesn’t allow developers to request the “All Files Access” permission. Google earlier said it wants developers to sign a Declaration Form before the app will be allowed on Google Play. This Declaration Form is intended to allow Google to weed out apps that have no need for “All Files Access”, much like how Google restricts access to the SMS, Call Log, and the QUERY_ALL_PACKAGES permissions.
Although Google announced their intention to make developers sign a Declaration Form all the way back in November of 2019, they still haven’t made those Declaration Forms actually available. The company cited workforce challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic as to why they were deferring allowing apps targeting Android 11 and requesting “All Files Access” to be uploaded to Google Play. Google set the unspecified date of “early 2021” for when they would open up the Declaration Form.
Now finally, Google has started to inform developers when apps can actually request the “All Files Access” permission. The email sent to developers is confusingly worded, but a newly published support page adds some clarity. According to the support page, apps that target Android 11 and request “All Files Access” can finally be uploaded to Google Play starting May 2021, which is presumably when the Declaration Form goes live. For a list of permitted uses, exceptions, and invalid uses of “All Files Access”, as well as suggested alternative APIs, visit Google’s support page.