Google announced this week that it will no longer allow Android apps to indiscriminately track a user’s location in the background. Instead, all location-tracking features will be subject to a review process before launching on the Google Play Store. Developers are required to provide a strong justification for why their app needs to access background location data while it is not in use.
Google announced the changes in their Developer’s Blog with a post addressed to Android developers earlier this week. The tech giant says the new privacy policies will take effect starting on August 3 for all new Google Play apps that ask for background access, expanding to all existing apps on November 3.
The new policies were announced as part of a wider crackdown on location tracking in Android 11, which, like Apple’s iOS 13, lets users grant sensitive permissions on a one-time basis, reports The Next Web. Google has removed the “Allow all the time” permission from the dialogue box by default, meaning that for an app to track background location, a developer would need to ask a user to go through their settings and enable it explicitly.
Location tracking is an essential feature for many apps and services — especially navigation, weather and news apps with localization features — but prior to Google’s crackdown, any app could track a user’s location in the background even if this data had nothing to do with the app’s core functionality. While indiscriminately asking a user for location access is invasive, background location tracking is worse because the user is unaware of the surveillance.
“As we took a closer look at background location usage, we found that many of the apps that requested background location didn’t actually need it,” reads the official blog post from Google, written by Krish Vitaldevara, director of product management trust & safety at Google Play. “In fact, many of these apps could provide the same user experience by only accessing location when the app is visible to the user. We want to make it easier for users to choose when to share their location and they shouldn’t be asked for a permission that the app doesn’t need.”
If a location-tracking feature is found to “deliver clear value” and users would reasonably “expect the app to access their location in the background” Google will allow it. For instance, an app that sends emergency or safety alerts, such as a crime reporting app like Citizen, would have a strong case. Conversely, an e-commerce app with a store locator feature would work just fine by accessing the user’s location only when a search for a nearby store is done.