Google puts new restrictions on Android apps that can track your location in the background, with a new revision process to check if an app really needs data access. The changes were announced in a blog post to Android developers earlier this week. Google says since August 3rd all its new apps Google Play requiring background location access should be audited, with the audit expected to extend to all existing applications by November 3rd.
Although location tracking is a key feature of many applications and services, it can be quite invasive when applications require explicit access. History tracking is even worse because it means you may not be fully aware of which apps on your phone are watching at all times. The new review process will force applications to justify why they should use the feature and allow them to limit their monitoring.
Google says this review process will consider whether the basic functionality of an app really justifies this access to its site background. An application of social network allowing users to choose to constantly share their location with friends would be okay, says Google. However, it would be more difficult to justify this in a store locator, as it would work just as well if it only accessed the site while the app was in use. Clearly updating the user will help the chances of an application being approved, Google adds.
The changes were announced as part of a wider crackdown on location tracking in Android 11, which follows the steps in iOS 13. Apple's operating system also offers reminders that apps are tracking your location in the background. However, these policies do not seem to apply to some of its applications Apple such as Find My, in a move that has been criticized by some developers.
Instead, Google says its policies will apply to its own applications, which is reassuring given the company's less-than-perfect approach to tracking sites in the past. Back in 2018, the Associated Press found that deactivation Google Location History setting would not stop site tracking because of an additional Web and App Activity setting that would keep track of you. In response, last year, Google introduced a new feature to allow you to automatically delete location data after a certain amount of time.
The announcement also tells developers that they are responsible for the SDKs and third-party libraries they use in applications their. Last year, a study found that some applications use these SDKs to track users, even when users had chosen not to track their location.