Google imposes new restrictions that allow Android apps to track your location in the background, with a new review process that will check whether an app definitely needs access to the data. The changes have been announced in a blog post for Android developers earlier this week. Google says that from August 3, all new Google Play apps that request background access should be reviewed and extended to all existing apps on November 3.
Although location tracking is an essential function for many apps and services, it can be quite invasive when apps require location access without distinction. Background tracking is even worse because it means that at any time you may not know at all which apps on your phone follow you. The new review process forces apps to justify why they should use the feature, and lets them limit their tracking when they can’t.
Google says that this review process will see if the core functionality of an app actually justifies this access to the background location. A social networking app that allows users to choose to continuously share their location with friends would be good, says Google. However, it would be more difficult to justify this for a store locator app, because it would work just as well if it only got location access while the app was in use. Clearly informing the user helps an app’s chances of being approved, Google adds.
The changes are announced as part of a broader action against location tracking in Android 11, which follows in the footsteps of iOS 13 by granting you one-time sensitive permissions. Apple’s operating system also provides reminders that apps are following your location in the background. However, this policy does not seem to apply to some of Apple’s own apps such as Find My, in a move that criticized by some developers.
Google, on the other hand, says its policies will apply to its own apps, which is reassuring given the company’s less perfect approach to tracking locations in the past. Back in 2018 Associated press discovered that turning off the Google Location History setting would not stop all location tracking due to an additional Web and app activity setting that you would continue to follow. In response, Google introduced a new feature last year that allows you to automatically delete this location data after a certain time.
The announcement also reminds developers that they are responsible for any SDKs and third-party libraries that they use in their apps. Last year, a study found that some apps used these SDKs to track users, even when users had opted out of location tracking.
Although the review process will only officially start in August, Google says developers can request feedback from May to see if their apps can justify tracking background locations.