Google announced a series of policy changes for applications distributed via the Play Store on April 4th, 2021. Most significantly, most developers would be unable to see what Android applications are installed on a smartphone.
As part of Google’s ongoing efforts to limit the usage of high-risk or sensitive permissions, the company has added the QUERY ALL PACKAGES permission, which, according to the company, allows developers to see the inventory of installed apps on a given computer.
These updates, according to Google, refer to all apps targeting Android API level 30 or later on devices running Android 11 or later. The new strategy was expected to be implemented sooner, but due to the pandemic, it was postponed.
“Play regards the device inventory of installed apps queried from a user’s device as personal and sensitive information, and use of the permission is only permitted when your app’s core user-facing functionality or purpose, requires broad visibility into installed apps on the user’s device,” Google’s support page says.
After the change takes effect, apps can only use the permission if they need it for “core user-facing functionality or intent, which needs wide visibility into installed apps on the user’s computer.” File managers, antivirus apps, and banking apps, as well as other apps that deal with money, are on Google’s list of approved apps.
As a result, only a small number of apps will continue to use the permission to see other apps that have been installed. Device scanning, antivirus, file managers, and browsers are among them. “Sufficiently explain why a less intrusive method of app visibility would not sufficiently allow the app’s policy compliant user facing core features,” the developers have been asked.
This update will take effect on May 5, 2021, and all applications submitted to the Google Play Store after that date must target Android 11 or higher. The policy’s primary goal is to protect users from misleading ads or other types of behavior that can occur when an external party has access to a device’s installed apps.
A similar and longer-standing developer policy had the same aim of allowing users to opt-out of apps like Facebook communicating with apps on their mobile device.