Google Is Cracking Down on App Location Access

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Smartphones collect a mountain of data about the person using them, and apps have long abused that fact for advertising and marketing purposes. Your location is one of the most sensitive bits of data apps can collect, and Google is adding new features to Android to limit that. Android 11 includes some new location privacy features, but those on older versions of Android will benefit from a spate of Play Store policy changes. 

Even in the early days of Android, Google allowed users to block location access. However, it was an all-or-nothing situation. You could turn off all location access on the device or leave it on. Starting in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, Google made all permissions (including location) optional. Then in Android 10, Google allowed users to grant location access to apps “only while the app is in use.” Android 11 takes that a step further by adding a temporary, one-time option. Apps granted location just once will be able to see your location only until you navigate to another screen or close the app. 

Android 11 won’t launch until later this year, but you might start seeing some changes in permissions thanks to some Play Store changes. Google says that about half of people using Android 10 opt to only allow apps to access their location when open. Google is taking that as a sign people want more limits placed on apps. As a result, the company will soon make developers justify their need for background access. 

Google will consider questions like, “Does background access have clear value to the user?” and “Is location access important to the primary purpose of the app?” If the answer to these questions is no, developers would have to support only the option for tracking devices when the app is open. Google also promises its own apps will undergo the same review. 

Nothing will change at this moment, but Google expects to have the official policy guidelines updated in April. The following month, developers will be able to request feedback on their location usage via the dev console. Beginning August 3rd, all news apps that request the background location permission need to go through the review to ensure they need it. On November 2nd, all existing apps in the Play Store have to comply with the new rules or risk being unpublished.

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