Security Experts:

Google May Allow Innovative Use of Android Accessibility Service

After getting complaints from many developers, Google is evaluating whether it should continue allowing Android applications to use accessibility services for purposes other than assisting people with disabilities.

Many Android adware and malware families that make it onto Google Play abuse the BIND_ACCESSIBILITY_SERVICE permission to obtain administrator privileges and for other unauthorized activities.

As a result, Google informed application developers last month that they had 30 days to either demonstrate that the accessibility service is actually needed to help users with disabilities or remove the use of the permission from their product. The Internet giant warned that those who fail to comply would risk having their apps pulled from the official store.

The developers of several popular applications that use the accessibility service for various features that may otherwise be difficult to implement complained on various forums and reached out to Google with their concerns. The list of impacted apps includes the LastPass password manager and the Tasker automation app – the latter is not designed specifically for people with disabilities, but it is used by them.

In response to complaints, Google told developers, “We’re evaluating responsible and innovative uses of accessibility services. While we complete this evaluation, we are pausing the 30 day notice we previously contacted you about.”

In the meantime, developers whose Android applications require the BIND_ACCESSIBILITY_SERVICE permission must clearly inform users of why the service is needed before asking them to enable it. Developers must also convince Google that their app uses the permission for responsible and innovative purposes.

“Your disclosure must meet the following requirements: In all cases, you must have a disclosure to explain why you need to observe user actions in general using the Accessibility Service API. For each accessibility capability declared, you must have an accompanying disclosure to describe the app functionality that the Accessibility Service permission is enabling for your app. (The default disclosure tells us ‘what’, but you must disclose to the user ‘why’),” Google told developers.

The information provided by application developers on how they use the service will help Google make a decision regarding the use of the accessibility service.

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Eduard Kovacs is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.