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Android P won’t let apps secretly use your mic or camera in the background

Android P won’t let apps secretly use your mic or camera in the background

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Google’s Pixel 2
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

With its next major release of Android, Google will prevent apps from using your smartphone’s microphone or camera whenever they’re in the background and not actively being used on screen. The move is another attempt to lock down consumer privacy and eliminate any remaining paranoia over Facebook or other apps secretly listening to your conversations and serving up relevant advertisements. Sorry, conspiracy theorists.

Android O already took steps to make it more apparent whenever apps asked for mic and camera permissions, and Google is continuing to bolster those efforts with P. “To better ensure privacy, Android P restricts access to mic, camera, and all SensorManager sensors from apps that are idle,” Google announced in today’s blog post on the update.

“While your app’s UID is idle, the mic reports empty audio and sensors stop reporting events. Cameras used by your app are disconnected and will generate an error if the app tries to use them. In most cases, these restrictions should not introduce new issues for existing apps, but we recommend removing these requests from your apps.” (A UID is the unique identifier given to each app when you install it.) It’s likely there will be exceptions to this new privacy safeguard; wouldn’t you want a microphone app to be able to support background recording? But the vast majority of Android apps will lose any and all ability to snoop on you when they’re idle.

The first developer preview of Android P is being released today, but Google is urging Android enthusiasts to avoid installing this initial version on their personal devices; it’s simply not ready for that yet. So far, changes include built-in support for devices with a camera notch that cuts into that cuts into the display, a redesigned Quick Settings pane, and refreshed look throughout the system, native HEIF image support, and more.

Even before Google made it official, XDA Developers noticed the coming change in an Android Open Source Project (AOSP) commit.