GOOGLE HAS announced plans to change its policy on use of the Android ‘Accessibility Services' API.
Doesn't affect most people, you might think, but in fact, many apps use the features for non-accessibility related features, and it's this that Google is planning to crack down on.
Suddenly this will start to affect some of your favourite apps which use accessibility services to innovate instead of specifically help those with special needs.
But a quick glance at the Accessibility menu in your Android phone will show you that some major apps are using the API to provide added value - LastPass, Join, and McAfee, to name but three, all could potentially lose functionality as a result of the move.
In the case of LastPass, it's completely screwed without it.
But if these developers don't shape up and fly right, or at least don't find a workaround, Google has said it will boot them from the Play Store within 30 days.
The warning being sent to Devs runs thus:
We're contacting you because your app, [App Name], with package name [package name] is requesting the ‘android.permission.BIND_ACCESSIBILITY_SERVICE.' Apps requesting accessibility services should only be used to help users with disabilities use Android devices and apps. Your app must comply with our Permissions policy and the Prominent Disclosure requirements of our User Data policy.
Action required: If you aren't already doing so, you must explain to users how your app is using the ‘android.permission.BIND_ACCESSIBILITY_SERVICE' to help users with disabilities use Android devices and apps. Apps that fail to meet this requirement within 30 days may be removed from Google Play. Alternatively, you can remove any requests for accessibility services within your app. You can also choose to unpublish your app.
Why Google has chosen now to crack down on this widespread practice is unknown, and we can only think that it is the tip of a bigger iceberg, perhaps related to misuse for more nefarious purposes. It wouldn't be the first time.
Problem is, it's another of those "we can't have nice things" moments that will actually set Android developers back.
Windows 10 recently announced it was closing it's own Accessibility loophole that was being abused to get free Windows Upgrades (though it was a sort of open secret).
The big complaint is that all this is too ruddy vague. If you're using Talkback for Audiobooks (for spurious example) and this is of use to people other than the blind, does it suddenly become misuse?
Someone needs to think their decisions through before they enforce them. And for once, we don't mean Donald. µ
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