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Google pauses removal of apps that want to use accessibility services

Google is giving developers another 30 days to help it consider "responsible and innovative uses of accessibility services."
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Written by Jake Smith, Contributing Writer on
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Google is pausing its decision that cracks down on apps on the Google Play Store using the Android Accessibility API for anything other than its intended purpose, the company told developers in an email.

Google will use a 30-day pause to consider "responsible and innovative uses of accessibility services." It had originally set a 30-day deadline in November to remove apps using the APIs for non-accessibility purposes.

Google asked (via ArsTechnica) developers to provide feedback: "If you believe your app uses the Accessibility API for a responsible, innovative purpose that isn't related to accessibility, please respond to this email and tell us more about how your app benefits users. This kind of feedback may be helpful to us as we complete our evaluation of accessibility services."

In the mean time, developers who are currently using accessibility APIs for non-accessibility purposes have been asked by Google to include "an accompanying disclosure to describe the app functionality that the Accessibility Service permission is enabling for your app."

Accessibility services are in place to help people with disabilities use their smartphone by running in the background and aid the user by carrying out tasks like automatically filling out forms, converting text to speech, overlaying content, or switching between applications.

Some developers have used the APIs to help all users with tasks, including password manager LastPass. However, accessibility services can also be exploited by cybercriminals to gain additional permissions for malicious apps.

"Apps requesting accessibility services should only be used to help users with disabilities use Android devices and apps," Google said in its November announcement. "Your app must comply with our Permissions policy and the Prominent Disclosure requirements of our User Data policy."

Google's latest mobile operating system Android O includes a series of updates to its Android accessibility tools. TalkBack enables a user to interact with their device using touch and spoken feedback. With BrailleBack, users can connect their phone to a handheld, refreshable braille display via Bluetooth.

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