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

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.

Comments

Wait—current android DOES allow that?!

Lol, exactly my reaction

Of course Okay Google will still be there as a sole player in audio transcribe functionality. No more third party will get access to data that Google is entitled to.

There are several meanings of "background." Uber drivers need it for their safety… you don’t want to end up like the guy in canada or the guy in the bronx without a video of what happened.

For what it’s worth, Android P still allows it if your screen is on, or if you started the recording before it went down. I wish they found away to give users the power to start a recoding remotely… like from twitch or nest on the computer.

I love android because of the power it gives, I’d hate to see it become a powerless toy that you don’t own or control

Yes. I have an app called background video recorder that let’s you record videos while the screen is off (or if there’s something else on screen).

Shame it won’t work after the update, or maybe they’ll give users an option to enable background recording for certain apps.

Wow it doesn’t already do this? iOS has a big red indicator letting you know apps are recording in the background for ages.

I think its not preventing apps from activating it altogether as opposed to letting you know it’s happening…
…I could be wrong.

That is how I saw the news as.

Currently they let you know. This will prevent it altogether.

A handful of apps intentionally leverage this functionality today exactly for privacy. Mostly applications meant to help surreptitiously record audio / video during law enforcement and similar interactions.

How exactly are these supposed to operate in P?

Now that we have app per-permission support, just spin up new permission line items for background recording audio or video. Then have them unchecked for all applications by default. Oh, and have the fucking brains to let the applications list in 10 words or fewer why they need a given permission in the dialog box and what functionality might be missed if not enabled.

From reading the article and what others are saying, I would assume the same thing those apps have been doing on iOS for years.
No assumed permission (user prompted for every app), and some on screen notice that an app (and which app) is accessing your mic.

Facebook has been using this for years. I’ll offhandly make a comment about something I’ve never searched for and suddenly I get ads for it.

Let me guess, their conclusion is "there’s no evidence". I’ve seen it myself multiple times. There is evidence.

So, network traffic analyzed to show this happening, for example?

Have you ever noticed adverts for things you didn’t talk about or search for?

Network traffic to facebook is encrypted.

Post the evidence then, because I only see anecdotes. Just seeing things advertised that you’ve talked about isn’t proof, it’s just confirmation bias.

It’s not confirmation bias if I did not have the viewpoint that it was happening from the start. The evidence led me to believe it was happening.

What evidence? That you saw an ad for a thing you were talking about that almost certainly already had an active ad campaign?

It was so blatant.

But that’s not proof, it could just as easily be confirmation bias. You’re constantly being advertised to already and you probably block most of it out, but when you happen to see an ad for something you were just talking about, it stands out. This isn’t proof that you’re being listened to constantly.

Ay dodgy app makers can simply compile their app for Android L and they wont have this or any permission restrictions.

Google has been catching up with permissions but it really needs to force developers to compile for the latest versions of Android

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