Google moves to drop call recording apps on Android

Google has in the recent few weeks been actively changing policies, mostly revolving around the Play Store and the apps it houses. First, they instructed developers to actively target newer versions of the Android OS or their apps will not be visible to users, then followed up the policy by limiting the number of apps that will be permitted to install other applications.

Next up on Google’s radar are call recording apps. The tech giant, in a webinar, announced that starting 11th May 2022, the company will not allow apps on the Google Play Store to use Accessibility Service for call recording.

The written policy, which was released after the webinar, states that “The Accessibility API is not designed and cannot be requested for remote call audio recording.”

Now, since the accessibility APIs are the only way for third-party apps to record calls on Android, this means that call recording apps are dead on Google Play.

This change has not come out of the blue, but a total ban on call recording is definitely an extreme measure from the company. Google has slowly been deprecating and taking offline APIs that enable call recording over several Android versions.

This is done in the name of privacy and security for its users. Furthermore, there is also the aspect of call recording laws being varied across different countries. For instance, some countries require that you notify the other person before you can start recording the conversation; in others, you can do it without the need of informing anyone while there are a fair few countries where it is totally illegal to record a private conversation.

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These inconsistencies in the laws make it hard for Google to make customized changes for each and every country without the risk of running afoul of the law and getting fined billions of dollars as a result.

The easiest option is to drop the call recording capability for third-party apps, which might not be the best solution.

The writing was on the wall when, with the release of Android 10, the tech giant blocked call recording by default, pushing developers to circumvent the measure by leveraging the Accessibility API to record calls.

The Accessibility APIs are designed for accessibility reasons, meaning to support people with disabilities to comfortably use their smartphones. Therefore, the app developers were technically using the Accessibility API for a purpose that it was not intended for.

However, despite all this, native call recording functionality built-in by the manufacturers such as the ones found on the Google Pixels and Xiaomi phones with the Mi Dialler will not be affected.

“If the app is the default dialler on the phone and also preloaded, accessibility capability is not required to get access to the incoming audio stream, and hence, will not be in violation,” a Google spokesperson explained in the webinar.

Basically, preinstalled system apps straight from the device makers can get any permission. However, third-party apps do not have the same privilege and need to acquire the permissions which, in this case, Google is playing hardball.

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Naftaly is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for tech, video games and pop culture. When he is not writing articles for AndroidKenya, he is probably rewatching the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the hundredth time. Email at Twitter @KarisNaftaly

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