Google has a new incoming policy with regards to how apps distributed through the Play Store behave on Android phones. This will, to put it simply, significantly limit the capabilities of apps to see what other apps are installed on your phone. This will be applicable for Android phones running Android 11 or newer, and Google says that apps which do not meet these new policy requirements will be removed from the Play Store. This new policy comes into effect on May 5. Google says that the new Play policy regards the list of apps installed on any Android phone as a user’s personal and sensitive information. This comes just days after a research indicated that Google itself collects significantly more data from Android phones than Apple does from iPhones.
Google also clarifies that, “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.” If an app does not meet this requirement, they must remove the requirement to see what other apps are installed on an Android phone. So, which apps can get the permissions to view the other apps installed on your phone? “Apps that have a verifiable core purpose involving financial transaction functionality (dedicated banking, dedicated digital wallet) may obtain broad visibility into installed apps solely for security-based purposes,” says the new policy. Any app that must discover the other apps installed on your phone as part of the core functionality, will be able to get access—the permissions will include device search, antivirus apps, file managers, and web browsers.
These changes come after a bit of a delay, as Google held back making these changes last year. Apple also has been lining up significant security upgrades for iOS for the iPhone, which will not allow apps to track users across other apps, unless explicit permission is given by the user. Facebook has been making its opinion heard, quite strongly, also perhaps because the social media platform stands to lose the most if users prefer to lock down their data even more, than what is possible right now.