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Android 14 can block users from sideloading very old apps

The optional feature could improve security.
Attendees take pictures of a large Android logo head at Alphabets Google Android plaza booth during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 5, 2023. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|January 24, 2023 12:37 PM

The next version of Android could bar you from installing ancient apps in some circumstances. 9to5Google has spotted a code change indicating that Android 14 will block users from sideloading apps (that is, installing them outside of the Play Store) that don't target a minimum version of the operating system. It will stop the installation of particularly old software at first, but Google expects to "progressively" raise the bar to require at least Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

The move is meant to boost security and privacy. Malware writers can't just target old versions of Android to escape security measures in newer releases, Google says. Google already requires that apps in the Play Store target at least Android 12. This update denies attempts to install vintage apps through the web or third-party stores.

This won't completely thwart you if there's a classic app you're determined to run. It's up to device manufacturers to enable the cutoff, and there will still be a way to install apps through a command shell. The new policy is meant to stop people from unwittingly installing malware. If you sideload an old app on an Android 14 phone with this measure switched on, you likely know exactly what you're doing.

Still, it's notable that Google is limiting sideloading at all. For some, it's a reason to buy an Android phone instead of an iPhone — you're free to install apps that aren't available in the official store. However, it's not surprising that Google is clamping down. Android malware writers frequently (though not always) rely on sideloading precisely because there are fewer restrictions than in the Play Store. A block on old apps won't put an end to malware, but it could tighten the platform's overall security.

Android 14 can block users from sideloading very old apps