Google Reconsidering Accessibilty Crackdown for Android Apps

Google is putting a hold on a plan to crack down on Android app developers who inject accessibility functionality into their apps without proving the features actually help people with disabilities.

The company had said it was going to warn such developers about such usage of accessibility services and take down offending apps from the Google Play store after 30 days if they don't comply with the requirement to explain how they help disabled users. However, after being informed of legitimate purposes for using accessibility services in apps beyond helping those with disabilities, Google said it will hold off on the crackdown while it gathers more information.

The whole story played out in the Reddit social coding site's Android section. According to a Nov. 10 post from a developer with the handle "Fennififth," last month had e-mailed developers about the crackdown warning.

Fennififth summarized the e-mail from Google as saying: " 'If your app doesn't use accessibility services for what they're intended to be for, you might as well unpublish it because we're going to take it down in a month anyway.' "

"This seems like a reasonable decision at first glance, until you consider the sheer amount of apps that need this permission to function," Fennififth said.

The Google e-mail was also reported on other sites, such as this Google Groups post.

Last Thursday, a Reddit reader with the handle "ishaangarg94" reported another e-mail from Google noting the pause in the crackdown.

"We contacted Google Play Dev Support about the accessibility service API usage for users without accessibility needs," ishaangarg94 said. "They replied back saying they're now "[...] evaluating responsible and innovative uses of accessibility services. While we complete this evaluation, we are pausing the 30 day notice we previously contacted you about."

Google's reconsideration was apparently triggered by feedback from developers who explained to the company that the Accessibility Services API is used for other useful purposes beyond specifically helping people with disabilities, such as providing overlay content or automatically filling in text fields.

For example, as Fennififth said, "The unread notification plugin for Smart Launcher uses it as a workaround to listen for notifications. This handy app lets you create shortcuts to open specified apps in multi-window on Nougat."

Other apps mentioned in the Reddit threads that might be affected by a crackdown include Cerberus, LastPass, the AutoInput plug-in, Tasker, Clipboard Actions, Swivel, Universal Copy, Should I Answer and many more.

"Not sure about Clipboard Actions but Universal Copy allows you to copy text fields that aren't copyible (like a video description in YouTube), this needs Accessibility to function as it's using the accessibility permission that reads text on the screen like TalkBack uses (which can read non-copyible text out loud)," said one Reddit reader.

After word circulated that Google was pausing its crackdown, many developers and users were relieved. "This is huge news," said one Reddit reader. "Hopefully some of my favorite apps won't be kicked out of the Play store after all."

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.