What Is Android's Screen Overlay?

This Android feature can be helpful ... sometimes

Screen overlay is a feature of modern Android smartphones and tablets that allows compatible applications to appear on top of others. It's commonly seen in applications such as Facebook Messenger, where chat heads can appear when you receive a message, and Twilight, which runs color filters over the display to ease eye strain and block harmful blue light at night.


Screen overlay has its uses, and many advanced features of modern applications wouldn't be able to run without it. It enables them to "draw" over the application you're using.

AHow screen overlay appears on Android.

Screen overlays allow you to continue interacting with an app, no matter what else you're doing on your device. Without that capability, if you want to receive updates from that app, open it manually; apps that make visual tweaks to your phone won't work at all.

However, a hacker could use a screen overlay maliciously. For example, a screen overlay hiding a permissions dialog could trick you into agreeing to something you aren't aware of. To prevent that, an Android device warns you that it's using a screen overlay and blocks you from continuing. You need to turn off the screen overlay function to continue.

What Devices Are Affected?

Screen overlay and its associated problems aren't limited to any particular devices. The common errors occur on Samsung and Lenovo devices, but there's no inherent problem with those devices. Just because those devices are more popular than others doesn't mean issues can't arise on other, more niche Android devices.

If a device can support screen overlay, it's as susceptible to the "screen overlay detected" error (see below) as any other.

'Android Screen Overlay Detected' Error

A common issue experienced with screen overlay is the "Screen overlay detected" error. It appears when you use the Google Play Store to pay for something, open a new application, or change permissions while a screen overlay is being used. To make sure it isn't doing something malicious, Android displays the "Screen overlay detected" warning, which you must turn off before you can continue.

A screen overlay detected error.

Akash Jaiswal / Twitter

Fixing this is relatively easy, and there are a number of ways to do so. You can download an app that does it for you, but that won't help much if you can't open new apps while a screen overlay is in place. You can also do so manually.

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