Google Confirms Android 11 Will Limit Third-Party Camera Apps Due To Fears Of Location Spying

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Google is making a change to Android 11 that will force apps that want to take photos or videos to use the phone’s built-in camera app, even if you’ve created a different camera app, like OpenCamera, your default choice for them. Pictures.

“[W]We believe this is the right compromise to protect the privacy and security of our users ”, the Android engineering team written on August 17th, adding that apps that call the camera should explicitly name each third-party camera app they want to support. Now Google is giving us the reason: it’s to prevent bad actors from potentially harvesting your position.

It is not a radical change; many camera features will still work exactly as before. It also reflects how the camera works on the iPhone. It wasn’t until this year that Apple allowed other third-party app defaults, if only for email and browser apps.

And yet two of the most popular third-party camera app developers say The edge that Google’s move seems to be a disgrace. One of them is concerned that it will affect his business by further turning third-party camera apps into second-class citizens.

To understand what is changing, it would probably help if I explained what remains the same first:

  • You will still be able to open a third-party camera app and use it directly by tapping its icon on your home screen.
  • You will still be able to take pictures with the cameras built in popular apps like Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram
  • You’ll still be able to double-tap your power button (or similar shortcuts) to launch the camera app of your choice, Google confirms
  • Applications will still be able to launch the camera application of your choice; they just can’t import photos or videos this way

The only thing that changes: If Android apps want to use your camera app – instead of creating their own camera app – they’ll now go straight to your phone’s built-in camera app instead of letting you choose.

This is an important distinction because it means that these apps cannot call home with your location. Google updated his advice to developers to explain what it really is: The company is concerned about apps that might request photos so they can quietly track your location. When you take a photo, sometimes it’s geotagged with the GPS coordinates of where you took that photo, and a camera-less app could steal it by overlaying a camera app, even if you don’t. never granted the original app this locate permission.

It’s one thing: Shutterfly was accused of retrieving GPS coordinates from EXIF ​​metadata in 2019, and other apps have tried different tactics to bypass Android’s permissions system.

Originally, the new behavior surprised Android programming book author Mark Murphy so much that he submitted it as a bug, only for Android engineers to confirm that this was “intended behavior.”

And before Google’s fuller explanation, I asked some of the top third-party app developers what they thought of this decision. As the developer of the 10M + download FV-5 Camera reminded me, this is just the last fight that third-party camera app developers face right now, as OEMs like Samsung rarely allow alternative apps access to the full set of lenses. from your flashy new phone or to the more sophisticated features they’ve built.

This decision “will definitely have an impact on our app and all third-party apps, as it will reduce its visibility and add unnecessary friction for the user who wants to use a third-party app like ours,” said Flavio Gonzalez, developer of Camera. FV-5. He added that Google’s workaround “doesn’t make sense” because most app developers are unlikely to care enough about specifically integrating support for a wide range of apps. third-party cameras like his.

On the other hand, Footej Camera co-founder Stratos Karafotis doesn’t think the restriction is a big deal. While he agreed that Google’s workaround “doesn’t make sense,” he said users “can still use their favorite camera app” and expects them to do so. ‘get used to change.

During this time, Open the camera Founder Mark Harman, another developer with over 10 million downloads, mostly hoped that users would choose the app of their choice right from the Android home screen instead of relying on the intention of ‘another application. “[T]unfortunately it limits third-party camera apps and means they can’t completely replace the built-in camera app, ”he admitted, saying“ it seems a shame in my opinion to take people’s choice away. here “. But he didn’t seem worried earlier this week.

I’m a little curious if Google should go this far, though. Why not crack down on bad camera apps that share EXIF ​​metadata instead of warying all of them by default? Or create an API that removes EXIF ​​data, maybe? Why should camera apps from Samsung, Google and theoretically Huawei and Xiaomi be trusted more than little guys from the Play Store? It got me wondering if there are any other security or competitive risks that Google could hedge against, but the company tells me this move is specifically aimed at protecting EXIF ​​location metadata from abuse. .

On the bright side, Google has another initiative designed to bring desirable features like Night Mode to more camera apps in the future, with OEMs like Samsung, LG, Oppo, Xiaomi, and Motorola. at least partially on board. It’s called CameraX, and maybe in the future, third-party apps will look more like proprietary apps. We’ll have to see if Android phone makers are ready to lend their most interesting camera capabilities.

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