Restrictions to background location and foreground services in Android 11

Android 11 is officially out! There are many changes related to privacy you should know about and it’s good to check your apps for potential flaws. It’s also good to know what are the current platform restrictions.

I’d like to focus on important change in Android 11 that can affect your app if you are using location and foreground service. What’s important, it doesn’t matter if you are targeting your app to API29 or to the latest API30. If you are using device with Android 11 it’s also good to know how to deal with location permissions and when your app can be blocked.

Let’s get back to Android 10 for a moment.

Android 10 (API level 29) introduced a number of features and behavior changes to better protect users’ privacy. Read privacy changes docs.

To support the additional control that users have over an app’s access to location information, Android 10 introduces the ACCESS_BACKGROUND_LOCATION permission.

Unlike the ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION and ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION permissions, the ACCESS_BACKGROUND_LOCATION permission only affects an app’s access to location when it runs in the background. An app is considered to be accessing location in the background unless one of the following conditions is satisfied:

  • An activity belonging to the app is visible.
  • The app is running a foreground service that has declared a foreground service type of location.To declare the foreground service type for a service in your app, set your app’s targetSdkVersion or compileSdkVersion to 29 or higher. Learn more about how foreground services can continue user-initiated actions that require access to location.

TL;DR: It’s clear. You can use location in the app only when you are showing the user your app, user can see what’s going on and is aware of that. That’s why foreground service type was introduced.

Use case: GPS Tracker

Let’s talk about real example here. I’m working on an app that is recording trips (routes) with GPS. Change that was made in Android 10 wasn’t problematic for us. We are always showing user some UI that the app is working — notification (so we run foreground service working with active notification)

Question: Do we need to use ACCESS_BACKGROUND_LOCATION permission?

No. We are showing notification to the user, user can see that the app is working, everything is fine. And we are asking only for location Allow only while using the app. We don’t need background permission. That’s great!

Auto trip recording

In our app we have some feature called “autostart“. User can start recording automatically. For example when entering thier vehicle. Simple BROADCAST RECEIVER matched with Bluetooth.

You can set this up. When you are connected to some BT device, app is starting recording route. We are starting foreground service, showing info to user.

Question: Do we need to use ACCESS_BACKGROUND_LOCATION to start GPS recording with BROADCAST_RECEIVER?

Android 10: No. Start foreground service, get location with foreground service.

Android 11: Yes. You can’t use location even with foreground service when it was started by BROADCAST_RECEIVER. Broadcast Receiver for Android 11 is background process.

When trying to start foreground service with Broadcast Receiver you’ll get this error:

Foreground service started from background can not have location

Solution: You need to get ACCESS_BACKGROUND_LOCATION for your app. Even when using foreground service. The same foreground service will work without having this permission if user stars it manually from your app (e.g. clicking record button in your app).

Changes in Android 11

At Android Developers Summit ’19 Dianne Hackborn said that “Abusing foreground services is becoming big issue and we have to do step to address that…

I believe this is the “step“.

Foreground services in Android 11

Source: /11/privacy/foreground-services

Android 11 changes when foreground services can access the device’s location, camera, and microphone. This helps protect sensitive user data.

Restrictions to access while in use

Restrictions to access while in useIf your app starts a foreground service while running in the background, the foreground service cannot access the microphone or camera. Additionally, the service cannot access location unless your app has background location access.

Asking for location permission in Android 11

I believe that in most cases you don’t need ACCESS_BACKGROUND_LOCATION for your app. It’s always good to analyse your needs here. If you need it for your use case – be aware of other changes here. You can’t ask for this permission directly. And this is another big change in Android 11.

Android 10 vs Android 11

If you are using Android 10 and you’ve added ACCESS_BACKGROUND_LOCATION to your manifest you’ll see this prompt:

Note: You’ll see Allow all the time permission if you are using Android 10.

When using Android 11 you won’t see option for Allow all the time anymore.

Get consent for background location in Android 11

This is Google’s suggestion how to deal with it. Starting Android 11 you need to explain user why you need background permission and you can’t get consent with just a click.

Always explain user why background location permission is needed and direct user to app’s settings screen.

You need to redirect user to app’s settings screen.

User is forced to manually change permission for your app (that’s why explaining him why he should do that is so important)

There’s a great codelab regarding location permission in Android 10 and Android 11. I suggest to check Receive location updates in Android with Kotlin.

This story was also published on my blog.