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Android 11 to limit third-party camera apps for location privacy

Google ruffled not a few feathers when it made a change in Android 11 that also passed by unnoticed. In the next version of Android, only the pre-installed camera apps will be launched when apps request that a photo or video be taken. That has naturally raised many questions, especially on Google’s motivations, and the company has now updated its developer guidance to explain what user privacy it is trying to protect with this change.

To be clear, Android 11 won’t be removing users’ ability to set a third-party camera app as the default. They can still do that and their camera of choice will still be launched when, for example, they double press the power button. Apps that have their own built-in cameras, like Instagram and Snapchat, will continue working as before.

What’s changing is what happens when apps, like some scrapbook or note-taking app, request the system to take a photo or record a video, Android will only launch pre-installed camera apps, either from Google or the manufacturer. They won’t be able to launch a third-party camera app, even if made the default unless the developer specifically names those camera apps in its intent broadcast. Given the amount of work needed to do that, most apps will probably just accept the new default behavior.

Google explains that this change is meant to ensure that EXIF location metadata is processed correctly based on the location permissions of the app requesting the use of the camera. In other words, it’s meant to prevent a wayward app that doesn’t have location permissions to still glean the device’s location through an unwitting camera app. EXIF location hijacking is, unfortunately, a real thing and Google does have a basis for preventing it from happening.

Of course, that still won’t sit well with some users and especially developers who feel that Google is indirectly trying to push out third-party camera apps. For many users, nothing will probably change and they can still use their favorite camera apps to upload to those apps and services. They will just need to make some extra steps, which developers feel will turn users away in the long run.

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