New Google Play policies crack down on background location access and more

Google is once again updating its Google Play policies to crack down on malicious app behaviors that could hurt a user's privacy and safety. Today's updates focus mostly on three aspects - access to the user's location in the background, deceitful in-app subscriptions, and manipulated media.

Starting with background location access, Google is following up on the commitment it made back in February. Apps that request access to the user's location in the background will need to provide a justification for doing so, and those apps will need to be approved by Google in order to make that request. Google says that background location access should provide clear value to the user and be relevant to the core functionality of the app.

Developers can start requesting Google's feedback on their use cases starting in May, and the company will try to reply in two weeks. By August, any new apps and app updates will need to be approved by Google before requesting access to location data in the background, and in November, existing apps will need to be approved or removed from the Play Store.

For in-app subscriptions, Google is now asking developers to be more transparent about their offerings. Apps will need to be clear about the cost of subscriptions, the billing cycle, and which features, if any, can be used without a subscription. If available, the ability to use the app without a subscription should also be clearly visible, and subscription SKUs need to be accurate, so a "free trial" can't entail an automatic recurring charge.

Finally, in the deceptive behavior policy, Google has made it clear that manipulated media, such as images or videos that make it appear as though a person is saying or doing something they didn't do, is not permitted. Fake imagery that places public figures in politically sensitive events, or using those figures to promote the ability to manipulate media in an app, is not allowed, for example. If an app alters media in a way that's not clearly visible to the user, it will need to disclose that the imagery is fake, save for situations where public interest comes into play or the media is an obvious satire or parody.

There are a few more updates to a few policies. Google is emphasizing the need for apps to accurately describe their functionality in all of the metadata and disclosures, the Families policy has new requirements for the disclosure of data collection from children, and more. You can find a comprehensive list of updates here. Aside from the aforementioned location policy, all new apps and updates will need to comply with the new policies starting today, while existing apps have 60 days to comply.

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