Google Is Cracking Down on Apps That Can See Every Other App You Have Installed

Google Is Cracking Down on Apps That Can See Every Other App You Have Installed
Photo: Sam Rutherford

As Google continues to upgrade its privacy and security policies, it’s now making an important change in Android that will significantly limit the ability of Android apps to see all the other apps you have installed on your device.

In a recent announcement for developers, Google outlined an update to its policies that will restrict “broad app visibility” in Android 11 or later. Broad app visibility is a function that allows apps to query your device and potentially see what other apps you have installed. Google says it considers data regarding other apps installed on a device to be sensitive information and is making this change to help increase user privacy.

More specifically, Google says that any app that “can operate with a more targeted scoped package visibility declaration” is not allowed to use the QUERY_ALL_PACKAGES call, which returns a list of every app on your Android device, while broad app visibility is “restricted to specific use cases where awareness of and/or interoperability with any and all apps on the device are required for the app to function.”

The types of apps that will be allowed to have broad app visibility include apps like file managers, browsers, antivirus apps, and others that simply cannot function without deeper access to other apps on your device, which means it will be especially important to make sure that those types of apps come from secure and trusted places.

Furthermore, in the future, Google says developers will need to properly justify the use of broad app visibility calls or remove the app’s permission to see a device’s app manifest. Starting April 1, Google is giving developers a 30-day grace period to edit or update their apps in response to the new policy. However, developers who don’t comply by May 5 risk having their apps removed or delisted from the Google Play store.

Over the last year or so, Google has been slowly cracking down on app permissions within Android, and this recent move to severely restrict broad app visibility is another small but important step to increasing the security of our apps and devices. And with Google set to force developers to build apps meant for Android 11 and above starting in November, we should see a notable improvement to Android’s security going forward.