Posted by Sameer Samat, VP of Product Management, Android & Google Play
Thank you for all the feedback about updates we’ve been making to Android APIs and Play policies. We’ve heard your requests for improvement as well as some frustration. We want to explain how and why we’re making these changes, and how we are using your feedback to improve the way we roll out these updates and communicate with the developer community.
From the outset, we’ve sought to craft Android as a completely open source operating system. We’ve also worked hard to ensure backwards compatibility and API consistency, out of respect and a desire to make the platform as easy to use as possible. This developer-centric approach and openness have been cornerstones of Android’s philosophy from the beginning. These are not changing.
But as the platform grows and evolves, each decision we make comes with trade-offs. Everyday, billions of people around the world use the apps you’ve built to do incredible things like connect with loved ones, manage finances or communicate with doctors. Users want more control and transparency over how their personal information is being used by applications, and expect Android, as the platform, to do more to provide that control and transparency. This responsibility to users is something we have always taken seriously, and that’s why we are taking a comprehensive look at how our platform and policies reflect that commitment.
Taking a closer look at permissions
Earlier this year, we introduced Android Q Beta with dozens of features and improvements that provide users with more transparency and control, further securing their personal data. Along with the system-level changes introduced in Q, we’re also reviewing and refining our Play Developer policies to further enhance user privacy. For years, we’ve required developers to disclose the collection and use of personal data so users can understand how their information is being used, and to only use the permissions that are really needed to deliver the features and services of the app. As part of Project Strobe, which we announced last October, we are rolling out specific guidance for each of the Android runtime permissions, and we are holding apps developed by Google to the same standard.
We started with changes to SMS and Call Log permissions late last year. To better protect sensitive user data available through these permissions, we restricted access to select use cases, such as when an app has been chosen by the user to be their default text message app. We understood that some app features using this data would no longer be allowed — including features that many users found valuable — and worked with you on alternatives where possible. As a result, today, the number of apps with access to this sensitive information has decreased by more than 98%. The vast majority of these were able to switch to an alternative or eliminate minor functionality.
Learning from developer feedback
While these changes are critical to help strengthen privacy protections for our users, we’re sensitive that evolving the platform can lead to substantial work for developers. We have a responsibility to make sure you have the details and resources you need to understand and implement changes, and we know there is room for improvement there. For example, when we began enforcing these new SMS and Call Log policies, many of you expressed frustration about the decision making process. There were a number of common themes that we wanted to share:
- Permission declaration form. Some of you felt that the use case descriptions in our permissions declaration form were unclear and hard to complete correctly.
- Timeliness in review and appeals process. For some of you, it took too long to get answers on whether apps met policy requirements. Others felt that the process for appealing a decision was too long and cumbersome.
- Getting information from a ‘real human’ at Google. Some of you came away with the impression that our decisions were automated, without human involvement. And others felt that it was hard to reach a person who could help provide details about our policy decisions and about new use cases proposed by developers.
In response, we are improving and clarifying the process, including:
- More detailed communication. We are revising the emails we send for policy rejections and appeals to better explain with more details, including why a decision was made, how you can modify your app to comply, and how to appeal.
- Evaluations and appeals. We will include appeal instructions in all enforcement emails and the appeal form with details can also be found in our Help Center. We will also be reviewing and improving our appeals process.
- Growing the team. Humans, not bots, already review every sensitive decision but we are improving our communication so responses are more personalized — and we are expanding our team to help accelerate the appeals process.
Evaluating developer accounts
We have also heard concerns from some developers whose accounts have been blocked from distributing apps through Google Play. While the vast majority of developers on Android are well-meaning, some accounts are suspended for serious, repeated violation of policies that protect our shared users. Bad-faith developers often try to get around this by opening new accounts or using other developers’ existing accounts to publish unsafe apps. While we strive for openness wherever possible, in order to prevent bad-faith developers from gaming our systems and putting our users at risk in the process, we can’t always share the reasons we’ve concluded that one account is related to another.
While 99%+ of these suspension decisions are correct, we are also very sensitive to how impactful it can be if your account has been disabled in error. You can immediately appeal any enforcement, and each appeal is carefully reviewed by a person on our team. During the appeals process, we will reinstate your account if we discover that an error has been made.
Separately, we will soon be taking more time (days, not weeks) to review apps by developers that don’t yet have a track record with us. This will allow us to do more thorough checks before approving apps to go live in the store and will help us make even fewer inaccurate decisions on developer accounts.
Thank you for your ongoing partnership and for continuing to make Android an incredibly helpful platform for billions of people around the world.
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Gurupriyan is a Software Engineer and a technology enthusiast, he’s been working on the field for the last 6 years. Currently focusing on mobile app development and IoT.