Google has long ruled against publishing third-party app stores on the Play Store, but the company has never stopped apps from installing APKs if users give their consent. Soon Google will make changes that will limit this ability. According to the April 2022 Play Store policy update, apps will only be able to download and install APKs if their primary function is either to install app bundles at the user’s command, or to send and receive app bundles.
What this really boils down to is that only certain types of programs will be able to download and install application packages. For example, file managers and browsers. The rest will be banned. At the heart of this change is an Android permission called REQUEST_INSTALL_PACKAGES that has been around since Android 6.0 Marshmallow. If this permission is included in the application’s manifest, it can trigger a request that asks the user for permission to continue installing the APK file. At the same time, application developers should check if third-party libraries, including ad networks, have added this permission.
Features that Google considers acceptable apps for APK installation:
- web browsing or web search;
- messaging with the ability to attach files;
- file transfer, sharing and management;
- enterprise device management.
The requirements also state that the REQUEST_INSTALL_PACKAGES permission cannot be used to update, modify, or merge other APKs in an object file. The exception is device management, which usually falls into the realm of enterprise software and deployment tools. Finally, the purpose of the application, its main functions, as well as information about the possibility of installing other applications should be clearly indicated in the description on the Google Play page. The new rules are due to come into effect on August 11, 2022.