Google is keen to ensure that its services have truly mass appeal, and part of this means offering functions to help those with disabilities. This includes YouTube captions for the hearing impaired, screen reading for its Chrome browser, and a host of features for its premier mobile platform.
On Android, these come under the umbrella of Accessibility Services, features that developers can take advantage of to help make their apps easier to use for those with disabilities. This includes options like saying passwords out loud (for the visually impaired) and “talkback” so that users can hear an explanation of what they are doing on screen (for the visually impaired).
Accessibility Services can also be taken advantage of to achieve functionality that isn’t explicitly intended for disabled users. Apps like LastPass, Twilight, and Action Launcher make use of these settings as part of their core features. In Twilight’s case, that means drawing on top of the screen (it’s how it achieves its dimming effect), and with Action Launcher, it’s for expanding the notification bar.
According to reports, Google is now clamping down on those who use Accessibility Services “incorrectly” and is contacting app developers to ask them to explain how they make use of the features. Those who employ them for the purposes of assisting those with disabilities — as Google wishes — will be permitted to continue doing so. Anyone else will have 30 days to meet the services’ guidelines or risk being removed from the Play Store.
Android Police speculates that Google is taking this course of action for security reasons. As you can imagine, services that allow for things like saying a password out loud could be misused by malicious apps or developers. Thus, Google is probably acting in everybody’s best interests, here. The problem is, it could mean that lots of popular apps are removed from the Play Store as a by-product.
Some of these apps could stop using accessibility services without losing much in the way of important functionality, but those which require it to deliver their apps’ core features could be in a pickle. We’ll keep you updated on the outcome of this in next few weeks.