Google will eventually review all Android apps requesting background location access

Android 10 brought with it many new features, among which were privacy-focused ones such as the ability to block apps from harvesting location data when not in use. This was essential for those that were wary about the tendency of apps to use location information in the background and when not in use. With Android 11, Google is granting users the ability to allow one-time access to apps for background location usage.

In addition to user-facing privacy-related features, the firm today previewed a few policy changes coming to Android and the Google Play Store. The company states that they found that many apps that requested background location data did not need access to a user’s location at all. To combat such behaviors from app makers, the search giant will be updating the Play Store policies to ensure that developers acquire approval from Google for their apps to access location services in such a manner.

The factors that the firm will consider for approval include 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?

Interestingly, the firm states that apps made by Google will also be evaluated against these factors, and that the submissions will be reviewed by the people in the firm’s team. The company also detailed three example use cases that would either warrant the need for background access or otherwise.

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.

To help developers submit their use cases for approval before the policy change and to receive feedback, Google has provided a timeline listing the timeframes that will be followed for this change:

  • 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

The Mountain View giant has also provided some links and documentation such as the background location access checklist and privacy best practices.

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