Google clamps down on apps that misuse accessibility API -- and it could affect your favorite apps

Google is launching a crackdown on apps that misuse Accessibility Services, threatening to remove them from the Play Store. The API was created specifically to help users with various disabilities, but developers have latched onto it as a way of increasing the functionality of their apps.

The likes of Tasker, LastPass and Universal Copy are among the titles that make use of the Accessibility Services API, and they have been warned to either explain why they are using the API, stop using the API, or unpublish their app.

Google has emailed a number of developers, telling them that they must take action to avoid having their apps removed from the Play Store. There is an active thread on Reddit where developers and app users are complaining, particularly about the fact that Google is only allowing 30 days for compliance.

The email sent out to developers says:

If you aren't already doing so, you must explain to users how your app is using the [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.

While there is something of a risk that well-known apps will be affected, they are unlikely to disappear completely. There are alternative APIs that can be used to mimic the functions of the Accessibility Services API, but the fact that many of these are specific to Oreo means that some users face losing access to certain features.

As the developer of Tasker points out:

Unfortunately, Google have decided to ban apps which use accessibility service for things
other than 'helping users with disabilities'.

I got an email with a 30 day (how generous) notice today.

I plan to replace app detection with the usage stats API. Unfortunately, this
API started with API 21, (until they restrict the usage of that....) so people
using Tasker on a pre-Lollipop device won't be able to use app contexts anymore.

There are several other little pieces of functionality which won't work anymore,
such as the Back Button action.

Google's main concern about abuse of the API is that it poses a potential security threat.

Image credit: dennizn / Shutterstock

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