Google confirms Android 11 will restrict third-party digicam apps due to location spying fears
Google is making a change in Android 11 that may power apps that need to take photographs or video to make use of the telephone’s built-in digicam app — even when you’ve made a distinct digicam app, like OpenCamera, your default alternative for photographs.
“[W]e imagine it’s the proper trade-off to guard the privateness and safety of our customers,” the Android engineering group wrote on August seventeenth, including that apps that decision on the digicam would wish to explicitly identify every third-party digicam app they’d prefer to help. Now, Google’s giving us the rationale: it’s to maintain unhealthy actors from probably harvesting your location.
It’s not a drastic change; many digicam options will nonetheless work precisely the best way they used to. It additionally mirrors the best way the digicam works on the iPhone. Solely this yr did Apple enable various third-party app defaults — if just for e-mail and browser apps.
And but, two of the preferred third-party digicam app builders inform GadgetClock that Google’s transfer looks like a disgrace. One is anxious it’d affect his enterprise by additional turning third-party digicam apps into second-class residents.
To grasp what’s altering, it might most likely assist if I first clarify what’s staying the identical:
- You’ll nonetheless be capable to open a third-party digicam app and use it straight by tapping its icon on your house display
- You’ll nonetheless be capable to take photos with the cameras constructed into standard apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram
- You’ll nonetheless be capable to double-tap your energy button (or comparable shortcuts) to launch the digicam app of your alternative, Google confirms
- Apps will nonetheless be capable to launch the digicam app of your alternative, too; they only can’t import any photographs or movies that approach
The one factor that’s altering: if Android apps need to use your digicam app — as a substitute of baking in a digicam app of their very own — they are going to now go straight to your telephone’s built-in digicam app as a substitute of letting you select.
That’s an vital distinction as a result of it means these apps can’t telephone dwelling along with your location. Google has up to date its steerage to builders to clarify what that is actually all about: the corporate is anxious about apps that may ask for photographs to allow them to quietly monitor your location. While you take a photograph, it’s generally geotagged with the GPS coordinates the place you took that image, and a non-camera app might steal that by piggybacking on a digicam app, even when you’d by no means granted the unique app that location permission.
It’s a factor: Shutterfly was accused of harvesting GPS coordinates from EXIF metadata again in 2019, and different apps have tried completely different ways to get round Android’s permissions system.
Initially, the brand new habits stunned Android programming ebook writer Mark Murphy a lot that he submitted it as a bug, just for Android engineers to substantiate that it was “supposed habits.”
And forward of Google’s fuller clarification, I requested a number of the greatest third-party app builders how they felt concerning the transfer. Because the developer of the 10M+ obtain Digicam FV-5 jogged my memory, it’s simply the most recent wrestle third-party digicam app devs are dealing with proper now, as OEMs like Samsung hardly ever enable various apps to entry your flashy new telephone’s full complement of lenses or the fancier options they’ve constructed.
The transfer “positively will affect our app, and all third social gathering apps, as it’ll cut back its visibility and add pointless friction for the person that desires to make use of a 3rd social gathering app like ours,” mentioned Digicam FV-5 developer Flavio Gonzalez. He added that Google’s workaround “doesn’t make any sense,” because it’s unlikely most app builders will care sufficient to particularly construct in help for a variety of third-party digicam apps like his.
However, Footej Digicam co-founder Stratos Karafotis doesn’t suppose the restriction is a giant deal. Whereas he agreed the Google workaround “doesn’t make sense,” he mentioned customers “can nonetheless use their favourite digicam app” and expects they’ll get used to the change.
In the meantime, OpenCamera founder Mark Harman, one other developer with 10M+ downloads, largely simply hoped customers will choose their digicam app of alternative straight from the Android dwelling display as a substitute of counting on one other app’s intent. “[T]his sadly does restrict third social gathering digicam apps, and means they will’t absolutely exchange the built-in digicam app,” he admitted, saying that “it appears a disgrace in my view to remove folks’s alternative right here.” However he didn’t appear anxious earlier this week.
I’m a bit of bit interested by whether or not Google wanted to go this far, although. Why not crack down on unhealthy digicam apps that share EXIF metadata as a substitute of distrusting all of them by default? Or craft an API that strips EXIF information, maybe? Why ought to Samsung, Google, and theoretically Huawei and Xiaomi’s digicam apps be trusted any greater than the little guys on the Play Retailer? It made me wonder if there are another safety or aggressive dangers Google may be hedging in opposition to, however the firm tells me this transfer is particularly about defending EXIF location metadata from abuse.
On the plus facet, Google does have one other initiative designed to deliver fascinating options like Night time Mode to extra digicam apps sooner or later, with OEMs like Samsung, LG, Oppo, Xiaomi, and Motorola a minimum of partially on board. It’s known as CameraX, and maybe it’ll truly make third-party apps really feel extra like first-party ones sooner or later. We’ll must see if Android telephone makers are prepared to mortgage their most attention-grabbing digicam capabilities out.
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