All Play Store apps will eventually need approval from Google to access location in the background
Android 11’s first Developer Preview is upon us, and there are going to be a ton of changes under the hood to discover and analyze. Given that it only just came out, we’re only just beginning to discover new features. On Google’s Android Developer blog, however, they’ve outlined one change that may go a long way towards ensuring the privacy of users, and it won’t be reserved for just Android 11. Developers will eventually need to get approval straight from Google in order for their Play Store app to get location services in the background.
With the release of Android 10, Google made it so that the user had to explicitly allow an app to access location services in the background. When an app requests location, currently, a prompt will appear to allow access, allow while using the app, or decline access entirely. Google appears to have taken that a step further, and developers will now need to go through the company directly. In their blog post, Google said that over half of all users selected the “while app is in use” option. With Android 11, users will also have the ability to select to allow an app access to location data one time only, where the app will then need to request it again the next time that it is launched.
As for apps accessing location data in the background, Google discovered that many apps “didn’t actually need it.” The factors the company will look at in order to decide whether an app requires the ability to access the location in the background will be the following.
- Does the feature deliver clear value to the user?
- Would users expect the app to access their location in the background?
- Is the feature important to the primary purpose of the app?
- Can you deliver the same experience without accessing location in the background?
These are the factors Google will be looking at after updating the Google Play policy. All requests for this permission will be reviewed by members of the Trust & Safety team at Google Play. Google gave the following three app examples as to how the permission will be granted for devices running Android 11.
An app that sends emergency or safety alerts as part of its core functionality – and clearly communicates why access is needed to the user – would have a strong case to request background location.
A social networking app that allows users to elect to continuously share their location with friends would also have a strong case to access location in the background.
An app with a store locator feature would work just fine by only accessing location when the app is visible to the user. In this scenario, the app would not have a strong case to request background location under the new policy.
This policy change is not immediate and will take time to implement. Google anticipates the following roll-out timeline.
- April: official Google Play policy update with background location
- May: developers can request feedback on their use case via the Play Console with an estimated reply time of 2 weeks, depending on volume
- August 3rd: all new apps submitted to Google Play that access background location will need to be approved
- November 2nd: all existing apps that request background location will need to be approved or will be removed from Google Play
Google currently encourages all developers to review their applications and ensure that when they request background location access, it’s for the right reasons. Developers are also responsible for any third-party SDKs that may try and access location in the background. This change affects more than just Android 11, as the apps will be removed from the Google Play Store entirely.