Google has announced a bizarre policy that effectively bans call recording apps from the Play Store. As part of Google’s crackdown on apps that use Android’s Accessibility APIs for non-accessibility reasons, Google says call recording is no longer allowed through Accessibility APIs. Since Accessibility APIs are the only way for third-party apps to record calls on Android, call recording apps are dead on Google Play.
NLL Apps — the developer of a call recording phone app with a million downloads on the Play Store — followed the policy change. The Google Play support page lays down the new law, saying, “The Accessibility API is not designed and cannot be requested for remote call audio recording. Google’s ban goes into effect May 11, the first day of Google I/O, oddly enough.
There is no clear reason why Google is banning call recording from the Play Store. Many jurisdictions require the consent of one or more members of a call to start recording, but once you meet this requirement, recording is completely legal and useful. The Google Recorder app is a product built entirely around the usefulness of recording conversations. Google also doesn’t seem to have a problem with call recording when it comes to its own apps: the Google Phone app on Pixel phones supports call recording in some countries. Google simply doesn’t provide the proper APIs to allow third-party app developers to compete with it in this market, and now it’s stopping their attempts at workarounds.
Android Accessibility APIs are extremely powerful and allow all sorts of controls over the Android operating system. Google has stated in the past that it would prefer accessibility APIs to be used only by apps intended for people with disabilities, but since no non-accessibility options exist for many supported functions, many apps power users connect to accessibility APIs anyway. Google said it wants to crack down on non-accessible accessibility apps, but also that it wants to consider “responsible and innovative uses of accessibility services.”
In the past, Google removed apps from accessibility APIs by supporting a specific use case with a larger set of official APIs, and it seems that was the plan at one point for the call recording, but Google eventually abandoned those plans. In 2020, the second Android 11 Developer Preview briefly added an »ACCESS_CALL_AUDIO« API for recording, but this API never made it into a final version of Android. It seems like that would have been a reasonable strategy: first support call recording with a proper API, then a few years later prevent apps from using the Accessibility API for call recording. Instead, the way Google went about it effectively bans all call recording apps from the Play Store. The good news is that you can still sideload!