Google’s Extremely Shortsighted and Bizarre New Restrictions on Accessibility Services

UPDATE (November 17, 2017): Thanks Google for working with LastPass on this issue! – Google details Autofill plans in Oreo as LastPass gets reprieve from accessibility removals

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My inbox has been filling today with questions regarding Google’s new warning to Android application developers that they will no longer be able to access Android accessibility service functions in their apps, unless they can demonstrate that those functions are specifically being used to help users with “disabilities” (a term not defined by Google in the warning).

Beyond the overall vagueness when it comes to what is meant by disabilities, this entire approach by Google seems utterly wrongheaded and misguided.

My assumption is that Google wants to try limit the use of accessibility functions on the theory that some of them might represent security risks of one sort or another in specific situations. 

If that’s actually the case — and we can have that discussion separately — then of course Google should disable those functions entirely — for all apps. After all, “preferentially” exposing disabled persons to security risks doesn’t make any sense.

But more to the point, these accessibility functions are frequently employed by widely used and completely legitimate apps that use these functionalities to provide key features that are not otherwise available under various versions of Android still in widespread deployment.

Google’s approach to this situation just doesn’t make sense. 

Let’s be logical about this.

If accessibility functions are too dangerous from security or other standpoints to potentially be used in all legitimate apps — including going beyond helping disabled persons per se — then they should not be permitted in any apps.

Conversely, if accessibility functions are safe enough to use for helping disabled persons using apps, then they should be safe enough to be used in any legitimate apps for any honest purposes.

The determining factor shouldn’t be whether or not an app is using an accessibility service function within the specific definition of helping a particular class of users, but rather whether or not the app is behaving in an honest and trustworthy manner when it uses those functions.

If a well-behaved app needs to use an accessibility service to provide an important function that doesn’t directly help disabled users, so what? There’s nothing magical about the term accessibility.

Apps functioning honestly that provide useful features should be encouraged. Bad apps should be blown out of the Google Play Store. It’s that simple, and Google is unnecessarily muddying up this distinction with their new restrictions.

I encourage Google to rethink their stance on this issue.

–Lauren–

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2 thoughts on “Google’s Extremely Shortsighted and Bizarre New Restrictions on Accessibility Services”

    1. Which will do Android users not running “O” absolutely no good whatsoever. And there will be vast numbers of such users — many tens of millions and more — who will never be able to run “O” and will be running earlier versions for many years. Remember, not everyone has the money to run out and buy a new phone every year or two. The fragmentation of the Android ecosystem and complex relationships between Google, manufacturers, and carriers make this even more of an ongoing mess for users, especially related to important patches and updates that they never receive and/or can never install.

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