Why Google Is Cracking Down on Call-Recording Apps

In the old days, if you wanted to record the contents of an important conversation you had to grab a piece of paper and scribble notes as fast as you could.

Then smartphones showed up and saved us from that nightmare by giving us numerous third-party apps to record phone calls. These third-party apps have been a lifesaver for people of all kinds, but especially journalists, writers, and small businesses, who sometimes conduct important matters via phone.

This is about to end. An upcoming Google policy change will ensure that third-party call recording apps will no longer be supported by the Play Store. Here are the details.

Google Play Locks Out Call-Recording Apps

Google has announced in this Play Store policy update that it will block third-party apps from using its Accessibility API (Application Programming Interface) to record calls, starting May 11, 2022.

According to the policy update, the “Accessibility API is not designed and cannot be requested for remote call audio recording.” This is because the Accessibility API is only meant to be used by developers to build apps for people with disabilities to access their devices.

An app developer noted in this Reddit post that this policy change is the latest in a series of steps Google has taken to stop call recording on Android.

Android 6, which was released in 2015, blocked access to real call recording by removing Android’s call recording API. Android 10, which came out in 2019, blocked call recording over the microphone. The Accessibility API became a loophole for call recording apps to get on the Play Store because it was exempted from this blockade. Now, this loophole has also been closed.


Why Is Google Play Closing Itself to Call-Recording Apps?

Although the Federal government in the US only requires one-party consent for call recording, numerous states require all parties involved in the call to be made aware that the call is being recorded. Therefore, this policy update will help Google to stay on the safe side of the law in all jurisdictions.

According to this Google webinar, this policy update targets apps that record calls without alerting the person on the other end that the call is being recorded (the relevant part is at 49:50).

However, even if call recording apps do notify all parties before recording a call, they will still not be able to use the accessibility API. Google has explicitly made it clear that call recording is an inappropriate use of the accessibility API, according to The Verge.

“Only services that are designed to help people with disabilities access their device or otherwise overcome challenges stemming from their disabilities are eligible…”, says the Google spokesperson.

This policy only affects third-party apps. Therefore, if your phone has its own native call recording feature, it will continue to work. For example, you can still record calls on the Google Phone App, and you can also record calls on Samsung phones. However, you must still be in a country or region where call recording is legal.

Will Call-Recording Apps Go Out of Business?

Call recording is an important need for many businesses and people. If it’s removed from Google Play Store, Android users may be forced to install call-recording apps that are questionable.

Indeed, as The Verge writes, apps that use three-way calling (where the third party in the call is the app recording the call) are still out there. However, these apps can be expensive, difficult to use, and may or may not be trustworthy enough to store your audio data.

Google must be aware of the vacuum it will create when it boots call recording apps off the Play Store on May 11. Therefore, perhaps this is just a short-term measure to comply with the law while it works on a future version of Android that supports call recording apps, but only where the law allows it.

Woman taking a phone call on an iPhone

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