Right from the start, Android has allowed users to install software from outside the Google ecosystem. That stands in stark contrast to Apple, which limits people to the App Store. Google has pared back some of these freedoms over the years, adding additional hurdles between users and third-party app installation. In some ways, Google has become downright hostile to the process, and the users of a popular file manager are paying the price. According to the developer behind Total Commander, Google has forced the removal of APK installation after a series of warnings, reports Android Police.
For those who don’t know Total Commander has been around since the 90s, when it was released for Windows. It has since expanded to Android where it’s garnered more than 10 million downloads, becoming one of the most popular ways for users to manage files. It supports multi-select, permission management, root access, FTP/SFTP, dual-panel file management, and more. One thing it can’t do anymore is install your downloaded APK files, and you can thank Google’s esoteric, highly automated Play Store moderation for that.
According to the developer, he began receiving warning emails from Google recently. The alerts claimed Total Commander was in violation of the policy against self-updating apps. This policy does make sense in theory — Google doesn’t want apps that pass malware scanning in the store to prompt users to install updates from third-party sources that might be able to introduce threats to privacy or safety. However, Google has never used this as a reason to go after file managers until now. After clarifying that the app was in violation because it “causes users to download or install applications from unknown sources outside of Google Play,” the developer opted to remove the functionality entirely.
Google has a history of erroneous app warnings and removals, but it has stuck to its guns so far. It’s possible Google’s meager human reviewers are simply under the mistaken impression that Total Commander uses APK installation to update itself — this functionality is just to allow users to manage and install their third-party apps. This could all be a misunderstanding, but it could also be a trend toward tighter control over its software ecosystem. The APK dispute comes as the company has implemented other Play Store policies that limit the functionality of popular apps. For example, it recently decreed that call recording apps could not use the system accessibility function. Other file managers still have APK installation support, but maybe that’s going to change.