The guide to Play Store background location approval
Starting on March 29, 2021, apps submitted to the Google Play Store must receive approval to access location in the background.
This is a good thing for end users, because it requires apps to follow privacy best practices and justify why they need to access location in the background.
But following privacy best practices and submitting a justification does require some effort on your part.
Google provides a number of resources that we'd recommend reading in full, including:
- The official policy: Requesting access to location in the background
- Tips for getting your app approved for background location access
In this post, we share our own tips and best practices for getting approved based on our experience working with Radar customers.
If your app accesses location in the background, you will need to complete a location permissions declaration form in the Google Play Console when submitting your app.
The form requires you to:
- Confirm that the app meets the location permissions policy,
- Explain the core purpose of your app,
- Describe one feature in your app that requires background location access, and
- Link to a short video that shows an in-app walkthrough of the feature, including a "prominent disclosure" shown to users before the runtime OS background permissions prompt
When reviewing your submission, Google will consider:
- Does the feature deliver clear value to the user?
- Would users expect the app to access their location in the background?
- Is the feature important to the core purpose of the app?
- Can you deliver the same experience without accessing location in the background?
What you control
While these criteria are subjective, they are relatively clear and easy to follow.
Importantly, you control all aspects of your submission, including:
- Which feature you choose to describe in the form (if multiple features use location, you only need to choose the best one),
- How the "core purpose" of your app is described, both in the form and in your Play Store listing, and
- The copy in your "prominent disclosure" shown to users before the OS background permissions prompt
Tips for getting approved
As such, we recommend the following to maximize the likelihood that your app is approved:
- In the form, if your app has multiple features that use background location, choose the one that provides the most user benefit and that requires background location to work (i.e., that cannot be easily solved with foreground location)
- Position this feature as part of the "core purpose" of your app (i.e., one of the main reasons why a user would download your app) in your submission and in your Play Store listing, including copy and screenshots
- In your "prominent disclosure" shown to users before the runtime OS background permissions prompt, explicitly include all of the following: (1) the phrase "location," (2) the phrase "background", "when the app is closed," "always in use", or "when the app is not in use," (3) all of the features that use location in the background, (4) if used to support ads, the phrase "used to support ads"
- If you prompt for background permissions separately from foreground permissions, you only need to show the prominent disclosure before the background permissions prompt. If you only have one permissions prompt, you need to show the prominent disclosure before that permissions prompt.
- In your video, show all of the following: (1) the prominent disclosure, (2) the runtime OS permissions prompt, and (3) the feature being activated from the background
- In all of the above, demonstrate to Google that you've read their policies and that you're taking them seriously
If you fail to satisfy any of these criteria, your submission may be rejected.
A prominent disclosure shown to users before the runtime OS background permissions prompt that explicitly includes the phrases "location," "background," and "when the app is closed."
What counts as background location
If your app targets Android 10 (API level 29) or higher and includes the
ACCESS_BACKGROUND_LOCATION permission in your manifest, you must submit for approval.
If your app targets API level 28 or lower (i.e., before the
ACCESS_BACKGROUND_LOCATION permission was introduced), includes the
ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION permission in your manifest, and uses location when the app is closed without starting a foreground service, you must submit for approval.
However, if your app does not include the
ACCESS_BACKGROUND_LOCATION permission and only uses location when the app is closed when starting a foreground service (e.g., during a curbside pickup, during a delivery, or during navigation), you DO NOT need to submit for approval.
Below is the Radar Toolkit video walkthrough that received approval from Google, including (1) a "core purpose" and feature of the app that requires background location, (2) the "prominent disclosure" that explicitly mentions "location" and "when the app is closed," and (3) the feature being activated from the background.
The bottom line
While features like location-based offers or reminders may seem to be in a gray area, and while Google's review criteria are subjective, the more you indicate that this is part of the "core purpose" of your app (i.e., why a user would download your app), and the more that this is part of your app description and branding, the stronger your case for getting approval.
Embrace this opportunity to follow privacy best practices and justify to your end users (and to Google) why background location helps you deliver impactful, valuable app experiences.
Location unlocks impactful app experiences, from curbside pickup and delivery tracking to location-based content and notifications, but permissions and app store requirements are always in flux. If you're looking for a partner to help you navigate these requirements, reach out to our team. We're here to help!